Coding and racism- we all kind of know what both words mean. However, have you ever thought of them together in one sentence? Let me elaborate.
For one thing, you need coding to program software or websites.
Likewise, we have a stereotype of programmer in mind. For example, a white dude who is slightly quirky and really into nerd stuff.
Of course, we don’t know exactly what the nerdy stuff consists off. But we usually locate is somewhere between gaming and data-bases.
Besides the nerdy stuff, the description of the white dude is pretty accurate. The fact that there aren’t many People Of Colour (and Women) involved in coding is already alarming.
However, it is not the most striking fact about coding. It actually the ‘wording’ inside the coding community and in the code languages themselves.
For example, the is the terminus of ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’.
“Master” refers to the main version of code that controls other processes, which are known as slaves.*source: BusinessInsider
Do you think that sounds pretty racist? Well, most of the time when there is such racist wording in place, people argue with historic developments.
However, keeping in mind that programming and coding aren’t older than 50 years. By all means, in historic terms that is not a long time ago.
On the other hand side, racism is still present to this day in society. So perhaps it is not so striking that those terminologies still exist in coding today.
What can be done to change racist coding?
First efforts to change those unpleasant words began more than 10 years ago. However, in 2014, the much-used open-source content management framework Drupal changed ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’ into ‘Primary’ and ‘Replica’. The similar framework Django implemented ‘Leader/Follower’ instead. Both work similar to WordPress.
In 2018, a request from a Phyton programmer completely escalated. (Phyton is a very common coding language used for web applications, for example)
Viktor Stinner argued in a Phyton discussion forum that:
For diversity reasons, it would be nice to try to avoid "master" and "slave" terminology which can be associated to slavery.
One user Matthew Barnett added that:
Not all uses of the word "master" are associated with slavery, e.g. "master craftsman", "master copy", "master file table".
Another user made the rather exotic suggest that:
In fact, in the BDSM subcultures, "master/slave" can have *positive* connotations.
I don’t see the point of repeating some of the arguments for keeping the terminology. You can read for yourself, here.
In the end, Phyton did change the words. Now in use is ‘Worker’ and ‘Helpers’. As well as ‘Parent Process’ instead of ‘Master Process’.
Other cases of coding and racism
There is also the wording of ‘Whitelist’ for a list of good links, for example. As well as ‘Blacklist’ for a compilation of negative things.
The Chromium-Team now issued a statement that those words should be changed. Chromium is an open-source platform that Google uses for its Chrome web browser.
It is also used for the web browser Opera and Amazon Silk, for example. The new replacements are ‘Alllowlist’ and ‘Blacklist’.
In my point of view, those new words actually describe the task of those lists much better.
More and more companies follow suit to change the connection between coding and racism
The newest addition in the change movement is Microsoft daughter company GitHub. The software platform is working on changing the ‘Master’ word. A hot contender is ‘Main’.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and husband to Serena Williams took to even more drastic measurements. He stepped down from his position and urged the board consortium to choose a black board-member in his stead.
Why do I need to know about coding and racism?
You’ve probably come across this blog because you are in search of music business information. And now you’re reading this hard post about coding and racism.
Important to realize, music streaming is based on coding! Digital distribution is based on coding as well.
This very blog here is in fact based on coding. If coding and racism are happening in the programmer and software world, then they happen in the whole digital environment.
As musicians and music industry professionals we are both creator and consumer of digital assets.
Like digital releases, for example. As well as many musicians have websites. Or records labels run webshops.
You see, there are many reasons to care about coding and racism. If racism isn’t a reason enough!
Editor’s Note: As far as my research on this topic has evolved, I could not find any documentation about how WordPress is handling the situation. As this blog is running on WordPress, I acknowledge my duty to further research this topic. I will update this blog post as soon as I have more information.