Today's lesson, Racism. If you see something written here that you’ve said or done, use it as an opportunity. Take it as a wake up call and make the decision to grow, change and be conscious of your own privilege. Remember, I am not a speaker for the entirety of a people.
After seeing, for the billionth time, someone say that they do not accept the “New” definition of racism, I started to wonder about those that define our words. How and why a word is defined at all.
I found something pretty interesting. (Well, if you’re a nerd like me!) According to Merriam-Webster, words that show up in the dictionary are simply the most commonly used words. Things that at one time were considered slang, may eventually be included as an “Official” word. Which is why, words like “LOL” have made it into the dictionary. (Yes, it’s really there.) It isn’t just a passing fad of a word but words that have staying power. The words are mainly chosen by how many different references can be found where the word itself is used. How it works in our vernacular and how (or if) it can be defined succinctly.
This is very important when considering those who “Reject” the “New” definition of racism. I put the word “New” in quotations because the definition that I and many others consider to be the most accurate definition, is not new at all. I actually saw someone reference it, as they put it, “The term was invented by a white woman in the 1990’s.” Can you imagine? The idea of systematic racism being something only thought of in the 1990’s? Yes, I suppose a racist who has made the conscious decision to be racist in the first place, would take some comfort in such an outlandish and quite frankly, idiotic thought. It’s a shame there were so many books written on the very subject of systematic racism long before the 1990’s. Woops! Oh and as for the specific term, it was actually credited to Stokely Carmichael in the 1960’s but why would a racist credit anything to a Black man?
So what does all this have to do with racism and the dictionary? Well, I’ll give you a few selections from Merriam-Webster on the subject of words.
“Merriam-Webster editors study the language as it’s used. They carefully monitor which words people use most often and how they use them.”
“Change and variation are as natural in language as they are in other areas of human life and Merriam-Webster reference works must reflect that fact.”
As you can see, the original definition wasn’t removed. It was simply expanded on. Oh hey, did you also notice that there was a span of time for it’s origin? That’s because it took a while for the entire definition to be entered. The 1990’s though, amirite?
As for time, this is where things get even more interesting. The above graphic is from Dictionary.com. It is a consensus of multiple printed dictionaries. Though the definitions are technically correct, you can find varying definitions depending on the book you use. For example, the oxford dictionary only has the first definition. It’s printed version however states that the word originated from the word “Racialism” which was said to first show up in English in 1907.
The Cambridge dictionary has a very similar definition to the Oxford definition but interestingly enough, gives examples that specifically talk about “Institutionalized racism.” As well as the definition of Institutionalized racism. Why do the differing definitions matter? Along with the differing definitions come dates. Although not all online dictionaries offer them, most printed editions do. The word has, somehow, been “Defined” anywhere from 1865 to 1938.
No matter the date you find, the timing of the definition means something. The definition is what it meant, then. The definitions are of their time. When it was updated, it grew and changed with the time. What was once considered acceptable, surprise, isn’t any more. At the very least, it has a definition that is it’s theoretical equivalent.
This is what is so telling about the “Deniers” of the definition. They prefer the original because it allows them to also “Enjoy” the victimization. For them, it is in fact, something to “Enjoy.” Which further proves the very huge difference between the two definitions. Those that stick to the original definition can (and do) equate racism to a bad day. Where as those of us who believe the updated definition is the most accurate, equate racism to a negative impact on our entire lives based solely on the color of our skin.
For the racist, demanding that people stick to the original version and the original version only means that the systematic oppression faced due to race doesn’t really exist. In addition, it allows them to view someone looking at them the wrong way as “Racism” while at the same time dismissing the idea that someone’s entire life is affected by racism.
This is why racists love the simple definition that racism is hate based on race. After all, a system can’t actively “Hate” now can it?