Missouri woman draws international headlines for getting Merriam-Webster to update definition of ‘racism’

U.S. & World

FLORISSANT, Mo. (KTVI) – A 22-year-old Missouri woman is making international news after successfully petitioning Merriam-Webster to update its definition for the word “racism” in the dictionary.

“I don’t feel like a star. I just feel like I spoke about what a lot of people of color understood,” Kennedy Mitchum told KTVI. “So I was glad it was being heard and understood.”

Mitchum recently graduated from Drake University with a bachelor’s degree in law, politics, and society. She felt compelled to show people what she has seen her entire life.

Here is the definition as it presently appears in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1: 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

2 a: a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles
b: a political or social system founded on racism

3: racial prejudice or discrimination

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Mitchum emailed Merriam-Webster and received a reply from Alex Chambers, an editor at the company. After exchanging a few emails, Chambers agreed that the entry should be updated.

“This revision would not have been made without your persistence in contacting us about this problem,” Chambers wrote in the email obtained by 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.”

Peter Sokolowski, an editor-at-large at Merriam-Webster, told the New York Times the entry “has not been revised in decades” and acknowledged it needed to be updated.

Mitchum has been the subject of television, radio, and print interviews around the world, discussing her pursuit for change. While she doesn’t know for sure what the new definition will look like, Mitchum said it will include mention of systemic oppression.

“I just want people to look at the change, learn, educate themselves, so we can come together; that’s what important,” she told KTVI.

For the time being, Mitchum said she’s putting her effort toward making sure all dictionaries amend their definition of “racism” like Merriam-Webster.

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