Navigating tricky language choices
Should software development and tech stop using the word ‘master?’ It’s a tricky topic, but one being stirred up by GitHub’s decision to replace the term with something less contentious and unrelated to slavery.
And the idea is spreading. As ZDNet says
, Google Chrome and the Git project are considering making the same move. And it’s not even a new idea; open source content management system Drupal did it way back in 2014.
It’s easy to dismiss the move as a tokenistic overreaction to the current mood. A quick look at the Hacker News discussion
about GitHub’s decision shows just how many people think it’s either silly or completely counterproductive to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Anything you do which is even somewhat ridiculous can be seized upon by your political enemies and turned into ammunition against you. They can claim your whole movement is about the ridiculous thing, and use it to derail discussions,” said one Hacker News user.
And ZDNet explains:
Most detractors and the explanation that often resurfaces in these discussions is that terms like master/slave are now more broadly used to describe technical scenarios than actual slavery and that the word “blacklist”
has nothing to do with black people, but the practice of using black books in medieval England to write down the names of problematic workers to avoid hiring in the future.
But rather than declare a strong opinion on this, I’d prefer to listen. What do the descendants of those who were forced to live and work as slaves think about the issue? My opinion is pretty much moot, and to pretend that it’s of equal importance to them is arrogant, to say the least.
A good example of this: I love the album 'Hex Enduction Hour’ by The Fall, but my enjoyment has always been tempered by the N-word shouted by Mark E. Smith in the opening moments of the album’s first song. It’s completely unnecessary, and was controversial when the album was released in 1982. There’s no way he’d have got away with it more recently. But last year, music site the Quietus asked black Fall fans what they thought
. And now I take their views on board when I listen to the album.
So, I don’t know if GitHub is doing the right thing or if it’s overreacting, but I know who to ask.