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  • Screen capture of the Merriam-Webster dictionary entry for the term racism.

    Screen capture of the Merriam-Webster dictionary entry for the term racism. | Photo: Merriam-Webster

Published 10 June 2020
Opinion

Kennedy Mitchum, 22, a recent graduate of Drake University in Iowa, emailed the dictionary last month, following the killing of black U.S. citizen George Floyd by a white police officer.

U.S. dictionary Merriam-Webster will update its definition of the term racism after a young Black woman from Missouri contacted the editorial team saying the current definition does not reflect the oppression of black people as it should, media have reported.

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Kennedy Mitchum, 22, a recent graduate of Drake University in Iowa, emailed the dictionary last month, following the killing of black U.S. citizen George Floyd by a white police officer.

"I kept having to tell them that definition is not representative of what is actually happening in the world," Mitchum 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."

"It's not just disliking someone because of their race," Mitchum wrote Friday in a Facebook post.

Merriam-Webster's editorial manager, Peter Sokolowski, told AFP that the definition would be changed.

The dictionary currently offers three definitions of racism, and Sokolowski said the second definition touches on Mitchum's point - but that "we will make that even more clear in our next release."

In the current version of the second definition, racism is "a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles," and "a political or social system founded on racism"

"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," Sokolowski said.

One of the dictionary's editors told Mitchum that the definitions of other words that are "related to racism or have racial connotations" would also be updated, without specifying which ones.

"We apologize for the harm and offense we have caused in failing to address this issue sooner," the editor wrote, according to a message published by Drake University and retweeted by Mitchum.

Merriam-Webster has published its dictionaries since 1847. Its site, where definitions are available for free, had nearly 50 million unique visitors in May, according to the SimilarWeb site.

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