Black women have criticised Dictionary.com for the way it describes and offers synonyms for the word black. Some of the words associated with it, as it stands on the online dictionary, liken the term to ‘dirty’, ‘depressing’, ‘inhuman’, ‘devlish’, and ‘monstrous’.
The negative associations do nothing for black people nor reflect a positive light on them, said users on social media who called for the website to update its definitions. Many women of colour argued that the definition is sinister and may allow youngsters to internalise the ‘dirty’ image.
In response, Dictionary.com said it would be updating the page and also capitalising it to say Black which many feel is integral to empowering the group. The website has said it is redefining the word entirely and conducting a full review of their usage notes about Black.
Nyshayla Barnes, a 20-year-old university student opened up the conversation, saying: ‘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. ‘Rather than making words, such as “depressing”, “threatening” and “foreboding” synonymous with 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. ‘This definition only perpetuates and contributes to the teaching of prejudice and stereotypes against Black people in society today.’
Others shared the same sentiments and urged Dictionary.com to evaluate the message they were sending out. One woman wrote: ‘It’s important not only to me but to all the little black girls and boys out there trying to find who they are, so we have to redefine Black.
In response to Nyshayla’s tweet, Dictionary.com wrote: ‘
We agree! We are making some updates and revisions that will be rolled out on Dictionary.com later this year.’
They added on their website: ‘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.’ ‘Another change we are making is that we will be capitalising Black when it is used in reference to people.
Written by: Faima Bakar