In response to the growing Black Lives Matter movement, more and more tech companies are taking steps to avoid racial stereotypes and promote equality. For some, that means changing terms like “master” and “slave” — two commonly used coding phrases that refer to different repositories.
Microsoft’s GitHub, announced late last week that it is working to replace the racially insensitive terms with more general ones. It joins a growing list of code-hosting sites and other tech companies that are taking steps to rename certain terms. The likes of Android, the Go programming language, PHP, and Curl have all announced similar changes.
The phrases “master” and “slave” have been used in the world of programming for years. They refer to a communication protocol in which one process controls another. It can also refer to the main version of a software project that serves as a starting point for different variations. Believe it or not, many tech companies still use the terms today.
Even though making the change to alternative terms isn’t a major adjustment it just hasn’t happened yet. However, renewed calls for social justice following the killings of black civilians like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others are finally pushing tech companies to make the necessary adjustments.
Many have expressed concerns that continuing to use racially-loaded terms can reinforce and prolong racial stereotypes. Instead, platforms will adopt alternatives like “main/default/primary” and “secondary.”
GitHub’s CEO, Nat Friedman, said, “It’s a great idea and we are already working on this.”
A GitHub spokesperson later confirmed via email that the platform is changing its default branch naming structure. It also plans to make it easier for users to rename their own default branches to something else. GitHub will soon release guidance and tools for users that wish to do so for existing code repositories.
Considering that GitHub is one of the most important players in the software world, its decision will likely spark a secondary flood of changes as other companies follow suit.
Big Tech is Listening
In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Big Tech is making many adjustments. For example, three companies (Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM) announced last week that they will no longer sell facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies.
They cite frequently-reported issues of the tech being more inaccurate when identifying people of color than white individuals. That racial bias can lead to harmful outcomes like wrongful arrest and conviction.
Other companies are stepping in financially to amplify the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement and spark wider change. Google committed $12 million while Facebook and Amazon announced that they will donate $10 million to various organizations. Meanwhile, Apple recently unveiled a massive $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative that will “challenge the systemic barriers to opportunity and dignity that exist for communities of color, and particularly for the black community.”
Although these actions should have taken place a long time ago, the most important thing is that they are happening now. The tech sector has shown time and again that it is capable of making a major impact when it comes together. It has done so for things like environmental protection, healthcare, and education. Continued efforts will be necessary to help support the fight for racial justice.
Originally published at https://www.theburnin.com on June 18, 2020.