Recent graduate, 22-year-old, Kennedy Mitchum who studied law, has successfully argued that Merriam-Webster should change its definition of “racism.”
So she was surprised when an editor responded to her email and even more surprised that the company agreed to update the entry.
Mitchum has gotten into a lot conversations about racism and injustice where people have pointed to the dictionary to prove that they’re not racist. It’s happened a lot more lately as the world reacts to the death of George Floyd while in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers.
“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 first definition of racism is “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.”
Mitchum said many people she’s talked to use that to dismiss her concerns about racism and overlook broader issues of racial inequality because they don’t personally feel that way about people of color.
Mitchum said she sent her email on a Thursday night and got a reply from editor Alex Chambers the next morning.
After a few emails, Chambers agreed that the entry should be updated and said a new definition is 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.”
Mitchum said she hopes the vocabulary change helps people have more productive conversations about race. She said she appreciated them taking her concerns seriously and talking through the issue.
“I was super happy because I really felt like that was a step in a good direction for a lot of positive change for a lot of different positive conversations that can really help change the world and helps change how people view things,” she said.