In the conversation about racism, there has been much debate about the how the word should be defined. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, racism is defined as a “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” One Missouri woman is looking to change that.
Twenty-two-year old Drake University graduate, Kennedy Mitchum, recently approached Merriam-Webster last month about her proposal to update the definition. According to CNN, Mitchum sent her email and got a reply from editor Alex Chambers the next morning.
“I kept having to tell them that definition is not representative of what is actually happening in the world,” she told CNN. “The way that racism occurs in real life is not just prejudice it’s the systemic racism that is happening for a lot of black Americans.”
After an email exchange, the editor agreed that the definition should be updated. A new one is currently being drafted. “This revision would not have been made without your persistence in contacting us about this problem,” Chambers said in the email, which was provided to CNN. “We sincerely thank you for repeatedly writing in and apologize for the harm and offense we have caused in failing to address this issue sooner.”
Peter Sokolowski, an editor at large at Merriam-Webster, also spoke with CNN that its entry also defines racism saying it was “a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles.”
“I think we can express this more clearly to bring the idea of an asymmetrical power structure into the language of this definition, but it’s there,” Sokolowski said. “The mission for [Noah] Webster himself, you know, back in his first dictionary in 1806, was to essentially present the current active vocabulary of American English and that’s still our mission today.”