Merriam-Webster, an American dictionary, says it will update its definition of racism after receiving a complaint from Kennedy Mitchum, a young black woman.


According to CNN, the 22-year-old woman had sent an email to the company, which has published its dictionaries since 1847, pointing out the shortcomings in its extant definition of racism.

According to the dictionary’s first definition, 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.”

But Mitchum, a recent graduate of Drake University in Iowa, had in the email told Merriam-Webster to update the definition to include a reference to “systematic oppression”.


“I kept having to tell them that definition is not representative of what is actually happening in the world,” she told the news outlet.

“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.”

She said she got a reply from Alex Chambers, an editor of the dictionary, the next morning acknowledging her recommendation was being looked into.


“This revision would not have been made without your persistence in contacting us about this problem,” Chambers was quoted as saying in the email.

“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, however, explained that Mitchum’s suggestion is reflected in its other definitions of racism such as “a political or social system founded on racism.”

“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,” he said.


He added that the new definition of the word would be reflected in its next update which usually happens two or three times a year.

Mitchum commended the dictionary’s response, expressing hope that such would chart a new course forward for positive conversations about race.

“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.

The development comes amid global movement against racism following the death of George Floyd, a black American killed by a white cop in the US.


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