Merriam-Webster to update racism definition after Missouri woman’s request

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A Missouri woman says Merriam-Webster will update its definition of the word racism based on her request. 

Kennedy Mitchum says recent conversations about race she’d had with people since the death of George Floyd sparked the idea to email the dictionary publisher last month. 

Mitchum expressed her point that the dictionary’s current definition is inadequate and that it overlooks broader issues of racial inequality. 

The 22-year-old recent college graduate says her email led to a response from the editor followed by a promise to update the definition. 

“I kept getting into little feuds and people kept trying to disprove my points of what I was experiencing was racism. So I just had to email Merriam-Webster because people kept using their definition to disprove it,” Mitchum said. “They were saying ‘no. The definition of racism, it doesn’t go hand-in-hand. That’s not racism. What you’re experiencing must be something else.’ So I had to reach out because they were misinforming people.”

She said there was a lot of back and forth between her and the people she spoke with at Merriam-Webster. 

“I did have to fight, but they did say that they would change it to include more systemic aspects because that is very important, and that they would look into different literature that includes what people of color have to say about the term before publishing it,” Mitchum said. 

Merriam-Webster’s editor told Mitchum the revision would not be happening without her persistence. 

The dictionary’s editor-at-large says there have been previous constraints of having to fit shorter definitions into print editions. 

He says it is no longer the case with more users accessing Merriam-Webster online. 

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