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The Definition of Racism is Flawed.

The current definition of racism is as follows:

  1. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

This definition is fundamentally flawed and should be altered as follows:

1Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race.

The current definition is based on the idea of a 'power dynamic' that doesn't need to exist in order for racism to take place.

For example:

If a black person refers to a white person using a racially disparaging term.

If a Hispanic person refers to a black person using a racially disparaging term.

In both of these examples, it couldn't be said that the racism stems from a feeling of racial superiority, but simply from the fact that the person is a different race and that fact is used in a way that is designed to express prejudice.

I urge Oxford Dictionary to correct this definition as I feel that this is a very serious error in what constitutes racism, with quote serious ramifications as the generally accepted definition.


  • Hello @gwadding872

    Our dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. When we are defining a word we combine our understanding of how it is used in the language with an analysis of resources such as the Oxford English Corpus. We do not try to influence what words are used, or how they are used, but instead aim to provide a record of how language is being used.

    You can find out more here:

    We strive to make our dictionaries as accurate as possible, and are grateful when people provide us with suggestions of definitions that might need updating. Your message has now been forwarded to our editorial team for their awareness.

    Kind regards,

    The Oxford Dictionaries team

  • I understand that the dictionary is descriptive, and not, as you say, prescriptive.

    However, there are numerous examples across the internet of racism being used in such a way as I've described here. For example, racist terms such as 'mayo' and 'honkey' are being used to describe white individuals. They are meant as derogatory terms and are specifically focused on race.

    Therefore, this description is flawed. By any measure, these terms would fit the definition of racism. Unfortunately, the definition that you're currently touting at the Oxford dictionary would exclude this from being considered racism, as it's not based on 'racial superiority', but merely based on 'racial differences'.

    I'm not proposing that your definition should be prescriptive. I'm proposing that your definition does not accurately describe the way that racism is currently being used and should therefore be altered.

  • SimoneSimone admin
    edited May 2019

    Hi @gwadding872
    It's an interesting point you raised there.
    Just to complement my colleague's comment, the OED editors are always happy to receive suggestions of how definitions should be amended and updated.
    There is a form for submitting a suggestion here, where you can provide evidence for the amendment you are proposing (as the editors can only update dictionary entries if there is enough evidence of a new word or sense).
    I hope this is useful!

  • For example, racist terms such as 'mayo' and 'honkey' are being used to describe white individuals.

    It's a question of fact that such terms are being used in that way.

    It's a question of judgement based on observation whether to classify them as racist.

    It's not enough to demonstrate the parallels with what language-users have collectively decided to term racist. There has to be a moment where such language and attitudes are described as 'racist' for ease of communication , not to express an attitude. I seriously question whether this moment has come — or is even near to coming.

  • David, I have literally been told, myself, to **** off honkey/mayo. By any reasonable person's definition, that is racism. The attitude and intent were to discriminate based on racial difference. What would you require for this to be accepted as part of the general definition, exactly? If someone antagonises someone else based on their racial differences, isn't that enough to be defined as racism?

    By the means of an additional unnecessary qualifier e.g. 'racial superiority', the Oxford Dictionary excludes this from being defined as 'racism' currently. Indeed, the Miriam-Webster dictionary already recognises the definition that I've proposed this should be altered to. I don't understand why the Oxford Dictionary does not.

  • By any reasonable person's definition, that is racism.

    Then I'm not a reasonabe person.

    I could accept 'reversed racism' as a description or 'a kind of racism'. But I think anti-white prejudice would be more readily understood.

    If the term racism expands in future to take in this prejudice, then I suppose I'll be forced to accept that the language has changed.

  • That's already the accepted definition as per the Miriam Webster dictionary. As far as I'm aware, it's always been the definition for Miriam Webster. That means they have multiple examples in which racism is being used in this sense. I myself have seen countless examples of the word racism being used as I've described here.

    I suspect that you're politicising the term. How on earth can there be a different definition for the same language, with the same intended meaning, but reversed in direction between two individuals?

    You're adding a totally unnecessary sociological component, that only harms public discourse, where some individuals will feel as though they're entitled to antagonize a certain race because of historical context. That's not ok.

    But that's besides the point, because this usage of racism/racist is already commonspread in popular media, particularly amongst established and emerging social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Reddit and others. That's why Miriam - Webster use the definition I've given you. I have no idea why the Oxford Dictionary doesn't.

  • Racism: prejudice or discrimination against, or other negative treatment of, people because of their race

    That's it. Negative because of race.

  • edited May 2019

    I think to use just to show the world that we are against alone will never solve any problem. This is a game of mentality, bullying is associated with the racism since ever. \this needs too stop right away.

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