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Dictionary.com is Updating Their Definition of “Black”

Dictionary.com is Updating Their Definition of “Black”

Thanks to Proctor and Gamble’s #MyBlackisBeautiful (MBIB) and their recently launched #RedefineBlack movement, Dictionary.com has agreed to update how they define and refer to “Black.”

They made the announcement on June 6, almost in immediate response to MBIB’s launch.  

A portion of the statement read:

At Dictionary.com we take words very seriously. They are foundational to how individuals think about themselves, and they can influence the perceptions of others.

When it comes to the language of identity, the words we use are especially important. This is why when My Black Is Beautiful reached out to Dictionary.com about “Redefine Black,” we saw an opportunity to revisit our current entry of the word Black. As a result of this conversation, we are making some updates and revisions that will be rolled out on Dictionary.com later this year.

If you look on Dictionary.com today, the adjectival sense of Black that refers to people is the third sense on the page. Currently this definition sits right above a definition that reads “soiled or stained with dirt.” While there are no semantic links between these two senses, their proximity on the page can be harmful. It can lead to unconscious associations between this word of identity and a negative term. These are not associations we want anyone to get from Dictionary.com, and so we will be swapping our second and third senses on the page.

Another change we are making is that we will be capitalizing Black throughout the entry when it is used in reference to people. Why capitalize Black in this context? It is considered a mark of respect, recognition, and pride. This is common practice for many other terms used to describe a culture or ethnicity. Not capitalizing Black in this context can be seen as dismissive, disrespectful, and dehumanizing.

We will also be doing a full review of our usage note about Black.

MBIB partnered with DoSomething to engage the Black community in the effort and to work with the dictionaries to make the updates. Its a wise alliance as DoSomething members convinced Merriam-Webster Dictionary to change its definition of “nude,” which was defined as “having the color of a white person’s skin” to an inclusive definition, of “having a color that matches the wearer's skin tones.”

While Dictionary.com is moving in the right direction, there are still other dictionaries that need to do the same.

Words matter! If you’re interested in joining the movement to push the remaining dictionaries to update how they define Black, you can visit the MBIB campaign page here to add your voice and take action.