Boy Scouts updates its flagship program name to include girls. Here's what to know.

No, the Boy Scouts of America aren't going anywhere.

On Wednesday, May 2, the Boy Scouts of America made a small change to one of its programs, generating a big reaction.

In October 2017, BSA announced plans to admit girls into its programs, marking a pretty massive change to the organization's more than century-old structure. "I’ve seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization," said Randall Stephenson, the group’s national board chairman, at the time. "It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programs available to girls."

The organization has now unveiled its "Scout Me In" campaign, giving the public a broader look at what a co-ed Scouts program will look like.


"As we enter a new era for our organization, it is important that all youth can see themselves in Scouting in every way possible. That is why it is important that the name for our Scouting program for older youth remain consistent with the single name approach used for the Cub Scouts," said Michael Surbaugh, chief scout executive of the Boy Scouts of America, in a press release. "Starting in February 2019, the name of the older youth program will be 'Scouts BSA,' and the name of our iconic organization will continue to be Boy Scouts of America."

To summarize: Other than girls being able to join the organization (which has been known by the public since October), the only major change is the name of the older youth program (which is currently called "Boy Scouts," but will soon be called "Scouts BSA"). The Boy Scouts of America name isn't going away. Confusing? Maybe a little.

Boy Scouts attend an event at Zachery Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Ky., in May 2007. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

Some of the early responses to news of the program's name change seem to come from a fundamental misunderstanding of the announcement.

"There's something deeply sad about a society that presses for the Boy Scouts to stop being the Boy Scouts," tweeted conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. It's not clear who, exactly, he believes pressured BSA to change its program's name or whether he understands that the organization's name remains. "The Left will eat you alive if you compromise with them," wrote conservative blogger Matt Walsh, who added that this was a "self-destruction of the Boy Scouts organization."

The truth is that this wasn't some concerted effort on the part of progressives to eliminate the Boy Scouts. The decision appears to have been made out of necessity, with the organization rumored to be in a bit of a financial hole with enrollment on the decline. Allowing girls to join is one way to give enrollment a boost. Regarding the name change, it just seems kind of silly to keep calling that program "Boy Scouts" if it's making explicit efforts to market itself to girls as well. Walsh, Shapiro, and other social conservatives who bemoan "political correctness" and "social justice warriors" are blaming "the left" for something it had nothing to do with.

President Donald Trump addressed the 2017 Boy Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.V. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

The Girl Scouts of the USA, not associated with BSA, wasn't a fan of BSA's plans to try to recruit girls.

In October, the Girl Scouts published a blog post making the case for the continued existence of its organization as the premier scouting destination for girls in the United States.

"The need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today — and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success," the group wrote. "Girl Scouts works. We’re committed to preparing the next generation of women leaders, and we’re here to stay."

With the launch of BSA's "Scout Me In" campaign, GSA repeated that October point in a tweet, writing, "Girl-led. Girl-tested. Girl-approved since 1912."

Whether or not people approve of BSA's changes and its efforts to include girls in its programs, it's important to separate the fact from fiction behind the announcement.

No, this wasn't the result of overzealous progressives trying to impose their will on a conservative-leaning organization like BSA. This wasn't "political correctness run amok" or anything like that. This announcement has nothing to do with transgender scouts, nor is it an attempt by the political left to strip boys of their own spaces.

This was, as boring as it is, quite clearly just a business decision. BSA might wrap it up in public relations-friendly language about inclusivity, but the truth is this looks like it was simply about trying to keep BSA afloat.

A group of Boy Scouts salute during a 2009 Memorial Day activity. Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images.

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Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

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