Two months ago today, Merriam-Webster posted an updated and expanded definition of “racism,” a change prompted by a new college graduate.
The addition was proposed by Kennedy Mitchum, 22, a 2020 Drake University major in public relations and law; politics and society. She told the BBC, “I was just speaking on my social media about racism and just about how the things I was experiencing in my own school and my own college. There were a lot of things that were racist but it wasn’t as blatant.”Some people on social media told Mitchum she was misunderstanding the meaning of the word and she could stick that in her Merriam-Webster. So, she looked it up. And then, on May 28, she emailed Merriam-Webster. Mitchum wrote that racism is “both prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin color.”
The next day, an editor wrote that Merriam-Webster would investigate the definition.
On Sept. 3, the new definition of racism was posted without fanfare.
There was Mitchum’s definition: 2 A: the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another
Today, Mitchum is a diversity fellow at the public relations and communications firm FleishmanHillard.
Michigan State University college students had a very similar conversation about the definition of racism as they were creating the guide, “100 Questions and AnswersAbout African Americans.” It became several entries in the guide. One is:
What is systemic racism?
This term describes social values that support personal and institutional discrimination. As a social concept, systemic racism explains how people of color must adapt to a society not built for them, while White people readily fit in.
But Mitchum got the definition changed.