The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has officially changed the definition of "racism."

Originally published at:


“Favoring one racial group at the expense of another” would be a better definition, I think. Belief is not a necessary element at all, especially when racist systems have been lumbering along for longer than anyone can remember.

It’s still a better definition than before, though. A lot of people, I think, get distracted by this idea of racial hatred. They look inside themselves for animosity toward a minority group, and finding none, think they’re off the hook. But the system itself doesn’t need to hate anyone, in order to keep churning out racist outcomes with dispassionate efficiency.


Racists love the “superiority” part. If you ask them, they will say they don’t believe in superiority. They claim to be all about preserving cultural values and suchlike and therefore they are not “racist” according to the dictionary…


It’s already in there:


It’s still a poor and sloppy definition.

Racism is often simply an organising of mankind into groups, and the ‘other’ race becomes ‘others’ by nothing than their ancestry.

Think of the “Hispanic” topic. What Africans consider to be Racism doesn’t apply tot hem. Some Hispanics are of mostly Indio descent, some of mostly African descent and some are pureblood Spaniards from Latin America. Still, there is racism and discrimination against them based on ‘otherness’.
It’s this grouping of people as ‘other’ based on what M-W defines as “race” (2b) that’s the foundation of Racism. Racism can exist without discrimination or feeling of superiority.


I guess I would go with hatred or rejection of a minority or minorities.
As an example I would say that black people can not be racist
toward white people in this country, only bigoted, but can be racist toward other blacks.

Should I have chosen a different example?

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You mention Noah Webster, classing him with those who are not disciplinarian dictators, but he had quite a little of the dictator in him. The agenda for his dictionary was to create an American version of English, getting rid of French u’s in color and honor, etc and going from “s” to “z” to change the ise suffix to ize, as in realize along with other variants of questionable use. He hammered his version home with his Blue Back Speller, published in 1783 and still in use in WWII. Few dictates last so long.


People who have never cracked a dictionary in their life up in arms over this in 3…2…1…


Focusing on what an individual feels toward a group, distracts away from what systems do. Black people aren’t claiming immunity from racist behaviors, so much as pointing out they’ve been excluded from those systems.

It’s easy for Americans to forget about Han chinese vs Tibetans. Tutsi vs Hutu, and Israelis vs Palestinians when talking about systemic racism. We are hardly the only nation with such work still to do.


I don’t understand your statement as a refutation of my statement.
Maybe you can help me with that.

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I think both you and anansi are saying the same thing, in a way. But some of the wording might be getting in the way.

What both of you are saying, I think, is that racism qua racism can only exist within an overarching racist system.

And that’s why it doesn’t make any sense to talk about ‘reverse’ racism, or ‘blacks being racist against whites’ or whatever, because there is no place in the world - certainly not the US - where any racist system is in place putting blacks on top of whites. Individual black people – even groups of people – might be prejudiced, or say or do mean things, but that’s not racism, because they are not backed up by a system.

This is an important point, and I think I agree with both of you that it’d be nice if the new definition made it more clear.


You put your finger right on it.


“Black people cannot be racist toward white people, only bigoted” - is, in my book, a problematic statement. It’s not too far removed from “all lives matter” and “#not all white people” as a derailing argument.

I suppose as long as you clarify that its American racism you’re trying to make a point about, you might be technically in the clear?

I used to try that same statement out as a way to gain some clarity around racism, and I noticed it mostly served to muddy the waters. There is a real distinction to be made between racism as a feature of certain systems, versus racism as a personal belief. From what I can tell, there’s still a lot of white people around who only understand racism as a personal belief.


You can’t disconnect individual racism from the system that created it, and the system is designed to privilege white people over black people. It was a system built specifically on that notion, and the personal racism comes from that, from the belief created by the system that whites are superior. It’s not one thing or another thing.

So, no, black people can’t be racist against whites, because they hold very little systemic power at all in America.


Yep - it sucks that it needs to keep being repeated, yet here it is once again:

Anyone can be prejudiced or biased; but it takes actual power, both political and monetary, to be a racist.

Black people and other POC did not build an entire society rooted in the exploitation, subjugation and enslavement of White people.

As you stated above, we have virtually NO power in this country, and every time we try to establish anything positive for ourselves, it gets sabotaged and torn asunder.



I mean, just look what happened after we elected a black president! :woman_shrugging:


I was thinking of Black Wall Street and Rosewood, but you make a good point; it does seem like racist bigots became hellbent on tearing the whole damn country down after a Black man was elected POTUS twice…


Added a full stop there.
That’s our problem.

FTR, ongoing discussion in Germany of major significance, IMO:


I only heard about Black Wall Street just recently.
I’m curious.


I’ve always hated the term “reverse racism” simply because it carries the implication that racism is an invention of white people, which is utter nonsense. Racism is an extension of tribalism, which is as old as tribes.