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)
- Curl (programming language)
- Go (programming language)
- 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.
I refuse to use “whitelist”/“blacklist” or “master”/“slave” terminology for computers. Join me. Words matter.
— Leah Culver (@leahculver) June 6, 2020
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.”