Thoughts on Accessibility and Inclusivity in Technology

The Ansible community, for example, has started work to rename its “master” branch to “main” branch and phase out use of “whitelist” and “blacklist” in favor of “allowlist” and “denylist.”

Making open source more inclusive by eradicating problematic language

I read the whole blog, it’s laudable to make technology more inclusive. They do mention that while making these changes they are prioritizing not breaking things for existing customers. That’s great, but I have some thoughts.

I was told that in China people wear white to funerals and the ladies wear blue to weddings. The meaning of colors changes with the culture. Whitelist and blacklist are terms that might not be explicit enough despite the long history they have. For some people the idea of a ‘blacklist’ might be as intuitive as having a ‘bluelist’. And some people are color blind, using color to communicate breaks down for these people. Explicit terms are useful, removing color references from the documentation is a good move.

But master and slave? Do their exist other words capable of describing this sort of relationship? Leader and follower? Source and subscriber? Not really. The words ‘master’ and ‘slave’ are very useful terms to describe a specific sort of relationship, and I’m going to get in trouble for this, but neither slavery nor mastery is not racist.

People of all colors have been slaves. Vikings enslaved other white northerners. In the Roman era, anyone could sell themself as a slave to pay off a debt (preferable to death). I visited a slave port in Senegal and their I learned that it wasn’t white people who pillaged the black and made them slaves, it was black people enslaving black people and then selling them to the Europeans. I’ve read literature indicating that white people were too scared to wear the garments of the African natives, let alone head inland and conquer. I’ve been to the roman outposts in Africa, they didn’t make it far inland. Black Africans were the first to own black African slaves.

And slavery is still happening today. The open borders in Europe make it very easy to trap young girls into prostitution and move them throughout the continent, making it very hard for them to get help. I’m pretty sure an outworking of the open border between Mexico and the US is facilitating the same sort of phenomena.

What I am trying to say is that as offensive as the terms ‘master’ and ‘slave’ may be (I’m glad that people find the term ‘slave’ offensive), we can’t lose them. One, they describe a real sort of relationship, two, that is useful in technology and, three, if we do, we give up on the 40 million slaves that exist today.

By Jaime

Happily married and proud father, most often found in Málaga, Spain.

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