Racism definition: Merriam-Webster to make update after request

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People line up in preparation for the casket of George Floyd

The American dictionary Merriam-Webster is to change its definition of the word racism after receiving an email from a young black woman.

Kennedy Mitchum, a recent graduate of Drake University in Iowa, suggested that the definition should include a reference to systematic oppression.

An editor then responded, later agreeing to update their definition.

The decision comes amid international anti-racism protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Floyd died after a white police officer held a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Ms Mitchum had encountered people pointing to the dictionary to prove that they were not racist because of the way they felt towards people of colour. She felt the definition needed to reflect broader issues of racial inequality in society.

Merriam-Webster’s current definition of racism

  1. 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
  2. a) a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles, b) a political or social system founded on racism
  3. racial prejudice or discrimination

“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.”

Merriam-Webster’s editorial manager Peter Sokolowski told the AFP news agency that the second definition will be updated to reflect the request.

“We will make that even more clear in our next release,” he said.

“This is the kind of continuous revision that is part of the work of keeping the dictionary up to date, based on rigorous criteria and research we employ in order to describe the language as it is actually used,” he added.

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