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Merriam-Webster redefining ‘racism’ to fit BLM narrative turns the dictionary into an instrument of Orwellian thought control

Helen Buyniski
Helen Buyniski

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

Merriam-Webster redefining ‘racism’ to fit BLM narrative turns the dictionary into an instrument of Orwellian thought control
A dictionary publisher is redefining “racism” and related words after a black college grad complained the existing definition didn’t fit her experience. But sacrificing shared understanding to performative virtue helps no one.

Publisher Merriam-Webster has proudly waded into the culture wars, bending the knee to 22-year-old Drake University grad Kennedy Mitchum with a pledge not merely to redefine “racism” to reflect systemic oppression, but to “revise the entries of other words that are related to racism or have racial connotations.”

Promising the newly-updated dictionary would be rolled out “in the coming months,” editor Alex Chambers apologized for the “harm and offense we have caused in failing to address the issue sooner.” 

He might want to go back to the dictionary and re-read the definition of “harm,” however, because it’s been twisted within an inch of its life for the sake of political deception. Sticks and stones will no longer break our bones, we’re told – they’re merely the instruments of peaceful protest. But words have become weapons of mass destruction, so dangerous their usage must be tightly controlled. Who better than the dictionary to draw up those arms-control treaties? 

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Mitchum had complained to Merriam-Webster last month about its “racism” definition after apparently losing several arguments on social media over the term’s meaning. She insisted the definition needed more focus on the systemic aspects, lest bad-faith actors interpret it literally in an effort to excuse their own supposed culpability for racial oppression.

After a series of messages in which Mitchum lectured Chambers about how systemic racism was a bigger problem than individual prejudice – perhaps strewn with increasingly unsubtle hints that Merriam-Webster might be part of such a system – the dictionary’s editors came around, drafting a second definition that focused on systemic racism and thanking the college student profusely for opening their eyes to the need for such a revision. An “even more clear” definition is reportedly in the works, editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski told the New York Post. 

Mitchum’s smugness at having her demands so obsequiously catered-to is hard to miss in an interview with MSNBC, in which she dismisses people whose experience of racism differs from hers as “ignorant” and sniffs that their views do not reflect “reality.” The entire exchange positively reeks of privilege, to say nothing of hypocrisy. It is a bad joke to have her bullying held up as a triumph of the oppressed.

Indeed, Mitchum’s rationalization of why her individual experiences – no matter how personally devastating – should supersede the dictionary definition of a word reads like a parody of self-centered millennial campus snowflakes torn from the Babylon Bee. “I know what racism is, I've experienced it time and time and time again in a lot of different ways, so enough is enough,” she told local media on Wednesday.

Merriam-Webster wasn’t wholly the victim in this unsettling exchange – they’ll be dining out on that woke cred for years. But what happens when the next cultural upheaval comes along?  

Rewriting the dictionary definitions of words to suit prevailing political headwinds is wrongheaded and frankly dangerous, gifting another tool of oppression to an already power-mad establishment. It’s one thing to update the dictionary with new words and additional definitions as language grows and changes organically, but quite another to rewrite the definitions of an unspecified number of words related to a hot-button issue for the purposes of appeasing woke-scolds.

Language can be a great equalizer, and we should be deeply suspicious of anyone seeking to balkanize it. If American society ever hopes to heal the wounds of institutional racism, we’d better – as Mitchum herself admits – be on the same page, linguistically speaking. But redefining the terms of the discussion does nothing to further the cause of understanding between races, classes, and other groups. All it does is silence “wrongthink” ideas by making them more difficult – and perhaps eventually impossible – to express and understand.

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That’s presumably the point. Merriam-Webster is one of the most widely-used English dictionaries in existence. That they should be so quick to literally alter the building blocks of the language in such a time of flux calls to mind George Orwell’s 1984, in which each year’s “NewSpeak” dictionary further pared down the lexicon in order to narrow the range of acceptable thought. “In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it,” the dictionary’s editor tells Winston Smith. 

The minute the dictionary stops reflecting the way words are used and starts attempting to control that usage – and the thoughts behind it – it transforms from a tool of liberation into one of oppression.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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