Ditch These Racist Terms From Your Tech Vocabulary

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Image: GitHub
Image: GitHub

The tech industry has a lot of work to do in the fight for racial justice and equality. But while hiring black employees and other under-represented minorities in the field is crucial, there are subtler issues that need to be addressed, too. That includes reflecting on and changing the racially insensitive terminology that is commonplace throughout the industry, and there’s a growing movement of companies and independent developers that are trying to do just that.

Recently, GitHub announced it will change the term “Master repository” to “Main repository” due to the former term’s references to slavery, and will be abandoning the terms “whitelist” and “blacklist” to remove any racial connotations from their use. The changes will apply to all projects on the platform.

Github isn’t the only company leaving these words behind. Other organisations that have made similar pledges include:

  • Android Open Source Project (AOSP)
  • Apple
  • Curl (programming language)
  • Drupal
  • Go (programming language)
  • Grammarly
  • Microsoft
  • OpenZFS
  • OpenSSL
  • PHPUnit
  • PowerShell
  • Python
  • The UK Government’s cybersecurity branch

This is just a small selection of organisations that have updated or are in the process of updating their terminology with neutral phrasing sans such overt racial references. Some groups began changing these terms years ago, but the numerous alternatives to terms like “Master” or “Slave” has made the transition slightly messier than expected — “Main and Secondary,” “Primary and Secondary,” “Master and Minion,” etc.

In this case, a disorganised transition is better than sticking with the status quo, but Github’s support for the change is a big deal, since it unilaterally affects all projects that use its platform, which should establish some much-needed consistency to the development community.

Even if you’re a developer that doesn’t use Github, this is a good opportunity to look through your own projects and change problematic terms you may be using — even if they’re considered “industry standard.” That includes disassociating colour from your tech terms — the phrase “white hat” to describe a good hacker and “black hat” to describe a bad one, for example. (And don’t even get us started about camera flashes.)

After this, maybe we can next ditch problematic memes and marketing phrases like “glorious PC master race.”

Comments

  • this is a joke right? are these peoples world view so narrow that they dont even realise the words white and black are simply colours and they apply to a lot more things than just skin? is it just ignorance? so household appliances can no longer be called whitegoods? how about dinnerware, is china now banned? or asians have too much privilege so that doesnt count? does it extend to contexts where its not just in the name, like will all roads need to be concrete instead of asphalt cause a black road implies people are driving on black people?

    you know you have life easy when things like this are the wars you choose to fight.

    • lol everyday I wake up to some article about people wanting to rename “something” that is offensive and I just lose a bit more faith in humanity as a whole.

      honestly speaking thouugh I haven’t used black / whitelist or master / slave in ages but that’s mostly because it’s not idiot proof. allow / block list clearly states the intent and even non technical people (like my CFO can understand it)

  • This is ridiculous. I’m a person with dark skin, and I find this stupid. For as long as the world has existed, there has been discrimination. And for as long as the world will exist, you will always have ignorant idiots or people with insecurities who will discriminate against people on basis of race, colour, physical traits, abilities, disabilities, socio-economic status, etc. You cannot fully eliminate it.

    Where people are to be punished for atrocities, physical or mental, on an individual or group, I am all for it. For example, most recently, George Floyd (and other people of colour or race who have been attacked and/or killed). But, this extreme political correctness is taking it too far. It is creating a generation of pussies that get up in arms about the slightest thing that upsets them.

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