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Defining The Shade

Merriam-Webster – the most trusted online dictionary of the US for English word definitions, meanings, and pronunciation – is all set to change the definition of the term Racism, courtesy Kennedy Mitchum, a 22-year-old Black lady who recently graduated from Drake University. The organisation has confirmed the news, saying in a statement that the revised definition would help users understand the real nature of hatred. Users will also get an idea about the nature of abuse experienced by the Blacks due to their skin tones.

Mitchum recently sent an email to Merriam-Webster authorities, stating: “Racism is not only prejudice against a certain race due to the colour of a person’s skin, as it states in your dictionary. It is both prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin colour.” As per the existing definitions, the victim of Racism is just a person; however, the Drake University student claimed that Racism is an attack on a community, and not on a person. She further said that people often use the dictionary definition of Racism to argue whether something is, or is not racist…

Kennedy Mitchum

Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster Editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski has admitted that they received a mail from Mitchum. “This entry has not been revised in decades,” he stressed, adding that the definition had incorporated the idea that prejudice alone was not Racism, and it would require a system of institutional power behind it in order to function as prescribed by Sociologist Patricia Bidol way back in the 1970s.

Mitchum protests outside the Florissant Police Department in Missouri on June 7, 2020.

Talking to the local media, Sokolowski said that Merriam-Webster’s dictionary gives three definitions of the word Racism and the second one would be revised on the basis of Mitchum’s suggestions. He explained that the dictionary aimed to reflect the real-world usage of a word, instead a particular viewpoint. “We have concluded that omitting any mention of the systemic aspects of racism promotes a certain viewpoint in itself… It also does a disservice to readers of all races,” stressed Sokolowski.

It is to be noted that the Merriam-Webster authorities have made the decision, keeping in mind the wave of activism, national, as well as international, after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The incident has left some room for questioning whether there is a place for activism in the dictionary. According to Sokolowski, there should be a place for it. “Activism doesn’t change the dictionary. Activism changes the language,” he argued.

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