So you have all these sociologists and bloggers and stuff, and they’re all telling you racism is the combination of prejudice with power. And you go, no, racism is prejudice based on race. That is the word’s definition! Just look at the dictionary!
That is Mirriam-Webster and it says nothing about power or privilege. So, neener neener!
A few things -
1. That definition was written in 1936.
2. It is a really important thing to define your terms, and in a way arguing over definitions can seem really silly. Words are made up! They mean whatever we agree they mean. So when someone says “this is what I mean by racism” and someone else says “no that’s not what it means, it means this” it can seem counter-productive. But sometimes it’s important to pay attention to where the definitions are coming from, and how qualified a person might be to describe a word. Words may be made up, but like money (which is also a made up concept) they are INCREDIBLY powerful and real. If one definition is coming from educated people in the subject that word is encompassed in, in combination with people who have the most direct experience with the thing a word is trying to describe, while another definition is coming from those who are least likely to experience the thing described by the word and most likely to benefit unfairly from getting to define it, that is worth being critical of. And when an expert or a group experiencing oppression goes, “look, when I talk about racism, this is what I mean” you don’t get to then accuse them of being ingenuous or wrong when they use the word the way they’ve defined it and the way you know they are using it. Or at least, you don’t get to do that without getting a whole lot of people correcting you.
3. This is the definition for the big bang theory in Mirriam-Webster
and it is wrong.
The Big Bang wasn’t an explosion, it was a rapid expansion. And it didn’t start from a “single point”, it started from a gravitational singularity.
Any amateur astronomer, not to mention the degreed and Nobel-winning experts, could look at that definition in the dictionary and go “No, we’re the people who defined this term in the first place, we know it better than anyone, and that is not what it describes. You’ve oversimplified to the point of being inaccurate.”
So the dictionary is not the impartial font of all knowledge, or even all definitions. The dictionary can be, and often is, wrong. It is usually outdated and created by linguists, not scientists, sociologist, psychologists or otherwise. So it’s going to mess up.
So maybe if you are looking to define a term, you should be willing to talk to the experts in an area if they disagree with the dictionary, because there’s a good chance they know more about this than you do.
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