Merriam-Webster to Update Definition of ‘Racism’ to Include Systemic Oppression, Likely to Reconsider Definition of ‘President’ and ‘Bigotry’ As Well

Words matter. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have gargantuan dictionaries like Merriam-Webster’s. But because language is constantly evolving, the dictionary has to be updated on an ongoing basis, too. The latest edit? The definition of the word “racism,” which is being revamped to include systemic oppression.

The change comes at the prompting of Kennedy Mitchum, a black female graduate of Drake University who emailed the editors to lobby for a more complete explanation of racism. Why? Because she got tired of explaining (to ignorant white people, we presume) that racism can also be systemic, not just interpersonal. These naysayers apparently were pointing to the dictionary’s (flawed) definition to prove their point.

“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.”

To her surprise, Merriam-Webster agreed with her and is tweaking the definition – not just of racism but of other words related to racism or with racial connotations.

“While our focus will always be on faithfully reflecting the real-world usage of a word, not on promoting any particular viewpoint, we have concluded that omitting any mention of the systemic aspects of racism promotes a certain viewpoint in itself,” editor Alex Chambers said.

Words nerds: 1. Racist a-holes: 0. Now if only we could get Merriam-Webster to update the definitions of “president” and “bigotry,” too…

Cover Photo: Zerbor (Getty Images)

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