A young black woman named Nyshayla Barnes has started a trend by requesting for Dictionary.com to change the way it defines the word black.
Nyshayla Barnes tweeted: “There are offensive words in the dictionary associated with the definition of ‘Black’. It is vital that we have more positive meanings for this word because how we define words shapes our perception of them. @Dictionarycom.”
In addition to defining the word as referring to populations characterised by dark skin pigmentation, specifically the dark-skinned peoples of Africa, Oceania and Australia, the website offers synonyms “dirty”, “sinful” and “inhuman”.
Nyshayla added: “Rather than making words, such as ‘depressing’, ‘threatening’ and ‘foreboding’ synonymous to ‘Black’, we should instead use words that do not insinuate a biased undertone to a word that is commonly used to describe people of Black race and culture.”
Another said: “Black is a colour, usually seen as dark. Black shouldn’t always be defined as “dark”. Black is beautiful, black is brave, black is cultural and fun, it’s mysterious and classy. Black is unique, Black is bold! Black is natural, and POWERFUL. @Dictionarycom.”
Dictionary.com responded to Barnes’ tweet and said it agreed with the points she made.
The website has said that it will be making changes to its current definition. These changes include prioritising the definition that applies to people.
“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,” it said in a statement on its website.
Dictionary.com has also said that it will be capitalising the word when it is used in reference to people.
“This is common practice for many other terms used to describe a culture or ethnicity,” Dictionary.com said.