Destigmatize Black People: Remove Merriam-Webster's Prejudiced Definitions of Black + Dark

Destigmatize Black People: Remove Merriam-Webster's Prejudiced Definitions of Black + Dark

July 7, 2020
Petition to
Merriam Webster Dictionary Editor-at-Large Peter Sokolowski
Signatures: 24,104Next Goal: 25,000
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Why this petition matters

Started by Kin Folkz

Definition of Black on Merriam-Webster
Definition of Dark on Merriam-Webster

Please sign and share this petition to end the use of anti-black and anti-dark definitions to define blackness and darkness in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Racism begins from the moment when we are taught colorist definitions for blackness and darkness that invoke fear and disdain. These deadly associations create biases that are being used to rationalize racist/colorist ideology and actions that limit the agency, potential, lives and humanity of people defined as black and people with dark skin. Please lend your support as we ask Merriam-Webster to remove from their dictionary and thesaurus - the biased, deadly anti-black definitions that buttress racism, demonize people of color, and normalize the targeting of black and dark-skinned people for oppression.

We are asking Merriam-Webster to work with us to healthfully and equitably redefine "blackness" and "darkness". We are asking that you add your name to this call to shift away from anti-Black bias. Please support us in asking the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Editorial Manager Peter Sokolowski, Board of Directors, Editorial Staff, and Decision Makers to:

  • recognize that their shift to truthfully define racism as a bias supported by institutions must also include acknowledgment of their role as thought and impact leaders providing the means for targeted hatred via the language of colorist ideology, which reinforces anti-blackness within society and institutions; and  
  • remove negative definitions of "black", "dark", and their iterations from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Including the following definitions:

a: old-fashioned + literary: thoroughly sinister or evil: WICKED
sentence: // When the King heard of this black deed, in his grief and rage he denounced relentless war against his Barons …— Charles Dickens
b: indicative of condemnation or discredit
sentence: // got a black mark for being late
sentence: // the play was a black intrigue

connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil
sentence: // black magic // the black arts

a: very sad, gloomy, or calamitous
sentence: // black despair
b: marked by the occurrence of disaster
sentence: // black Friday

a: characterized by hostility or angry discontent: SULLEN
sentence: // black resentment filled his heart: distorted or darkened by anger
sentence: // his face was black with rage

chiefly British: subject to boycott by trade-union members as employing or favoring nonunion workers or as operating under conditions considered unfair by the trade union.
sentence: // a ship that was declared black by the union

a: of propaganda: conducted so as to appear to originate within an enemy country and designed to weaken enemy morale.
sentence: // Black propaganda … is the business of going to elaborate ends to spread half-true, misleading, or downright false information to get your enemy in trouble.— Everett G. Martin
b: characterized by or connected with the use of black propaganda
sentence: // Press reports say that in addition to dropping leaflets over urban areas, messages were broadcast over two "black" radio stations, … both of which were operated by the CIA.— Strategic Intelligence

13: characterized by grim, distorted, or grotesque satire
sentence: // black humor

14: of or relating to covert intelligence operations
sentence: // black government programs

a: arising from or showing evil traits or desires: EVIL
sentence: // the dark powers that lead to war

b: DISMAL, GLOOMY sentence: // had a dark view of the future

c: lacking knowledge or culture: UNENLIGHTENED
sentence: // a dark period in history

d: relating to grim or depressing circumstances
sentence: // dark humor

Though Black people, for many years, have upheld positive associations for blackness and darkness and have fought valiantly for the removal of racist/colorist words like "blacklist", "whitelist", and "blackballed" - only recently has a subtle shift taken place - because non-black people in powerful positions willed it. Google's Chromium web browser project and Android operating system have both encouraged developers to avoid using the terms "blacklist" and "whitelist". Twitter's engineering division tweeted out a set of words that it wants "to move away from using in favor of more inclusive language". The list includes replacing "whitelist" with "allowlist". 

Even, Merriam-Webster edited their definition for the word "racism" in June 2020 after a petition like this one prompted them to rethink the role that they play - not as casual observers - but as active participants in the abuse of black and brown people by not acknowledging racism's structural component and contributors (which includes Merriam-Webster). To leave anti-Black definitions intact is to allow racists to negotiate meaning based upon what they are taught and encouraged to use as society's structurally reinforced language... with inequitable and deadly consequences to Black + Brown-skinned people.

We implore Merriam-Webster to recognize that the role they play by "describing the language as it is actually used" perpetuates anti-Black harm by repeating and signal-boosting implicit bias. By maintaining negative definitions for the words "Black" and "Dark", they are choosing to ignore the continual violence that their noxious colorist descriptions create. By preserving these destructive definitions, they are participating in the devaluing of the voices of marginalized people in favor of the safeguarding and systematizing of structural and societal hatred. The decision-makers at Merriam-Webster are not merely reflecting colorist societal word usage, they are contributors to the societal structures that maintain racism. 

Please help us move toward evolved, equitable thoughts and actions by removing the prejudiced connotations and harmful associations for words that also describe and demonize a group of people.

Thank you
Kin Folkz

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Signatures: 24,104Next Goal: 25,000
Support now

Decision Makers

  • Peter SokolowskiMerriam Webster Dictionary Editor-at-Large