Science & Technology



Red Hat to remove contentious terms like 'master' and 'slave' from its source code

Zachery Eanes, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in Science & Technology News

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The technology company Red Hat said Tuesday that it would take measures to remove contentious terms like "master/slave" from its source code and other areas, in an effort to make its products more inclusive.

The world of coding and software, in which Red Hat is an influential institution, is rife with industry jargon and terms that most people have never heard. Some of them, which have developed over the course of decades, are now under the microscope as examples of how unconscious bias can creep into the workplace.

In recent weeks, popular coding and development terms like "master/slave" and "whitelist/blacklist" have become targets of criticism again, though there has been some pushback to replacing the terms.

"Master/slave" refers to how things like databases or devices have control over others in a system or code. "Whitelist" and "blacklist" are terms used to delineate what items or devices are allowed access into things, like what IP addresses can enter a website or what email addresses are accepted or denied.

The terms have been a topic of debate in the tech community for more than a decade. But in the wake of the death of George Floyd and a larger national conversation around race, companies and software developers have revisited the topic in earnest.

Earlier this month, GitHub, a prominent software development platform owned by Microsoft, said it would remove the term "master" from its coding platform, Vice News reported. Other tech institutions made the move away from these terms years ago. The "master/slave" terminology was removed from the Python coding language, one of the most popular languages in the world, in 2018, according to tech news site Gizmodo.


Chris Wright, Red Hat's chief technology officer, said in an interview that he hopes the change will be the start of a more inclusive development community. He said while the conversations have been happening for years, the industry delayed making changes because of the logistical problems involved. Now, though, there is an understanding that the change needs to happen now.

"It's not just the change in language, but it's the notion of how we think about inclusivity and where we can recognize what I would call systemic bias, where you're just unaware, and you create an unwelcoming environment that was so not the intention," Wright said.

"We talk a lot about being able to take good ideas from anywhere in open-source communities. But part of that is being open to people being in the community."

Red Hat said it is reviewing all of its code, documentation and content for "potentially divisive language," and will have conversations with its employees and the communities that use its platforms on how to replace those words.


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