IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

GitHub to retire 'master' label to erase slavery connotations

The development hub joins a number of companies that have revised their terminology in the interests of sensitivity

GitHub is working on replacing the terminology of its default branch structure from ‘master’ to something more neutral, like ‘main’, in order to excise any perceived references to slavery.

The programming hub has become the latest company to examine the development terms it uses, with CEO Nat Friedman confirming on Twitter that the company is working on replacing the term ‘master’ where it appears on GitHub to something else. 

This would in effect remove any connotations to the master/slave dynamic in efforts to be more racially sensitive. Friedman was responding to a Google engineer Una Kravets who called on the platform to follow her push. The implications would amount to replacing terms such as ‘master’ and ‘slave’ with alternative words like ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’.

The logic behind the proposal, Kravets outlined, was that ‘main’ is shorter than ‘master’, it’s easier to remember, and it’s a no-brainer “if it prevents even a single black person from feeling more isolated in tech community”. 

The alleged murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter resurgence that was sparked in response has forced many companies to reassess their contribution to systemic racism, including organisations in the tech industry. 

After IBM announced it would ‘sunset’ its AI-powered facial recognition technology, both AWS and Microsoft followed suit, announcing each would at least pause the deployment to police forces due to the documented racial biases found in the technology.

Google, meanwhile, plans to eliminate the subtle racism found in its code by moving away from the terms ‘blacklist’ and ‘whitelist’, with the Chromium team publishing guidance on how developers can write racially-neutral code.

Incidentally, Microsoft programmer, Scott Hanselman, last week published a blog echoing calls from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) that the ‘master-slave’ terminology is inappropriate. He also demonstrated how developers could replace the terms in their projects without much hassle. 

The movement to replace potentially racially insensitive terminology in computing and development has been alive for some time, with UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) agreeing to replace ‘blacklist’ and ‘whitelist’ in April. The shift to using terms such as ‘allow list’ and ‘deny list’ came into force before the Black Lives Matter protests sparked.

“It only makes sense if you equate white with 'good, permitted, safe' and black with 'bad, dangerous, forbidden',” explained the NCSC’s people-centred security team lead Emma W. 

“There are some obvious problems with this. So in the name of helping to stamp out racism in cyber security, we will avoid this casually pejorative wording on our website in the future.

“You may not see why this matters. If you're not adversely affected by racial stereotyping yourself, then please count yourself lucky. For some of your colleagues (and potential future colleagues), this really is a change worth making.”

Many Twitter users responded to Friedman’s comments suggesting GitHub’s plans are “stupid”, “useless”, and a “waste of energy”. The IETF report, published in October 2018, suggested language used in computing perpetuates racial connotations inadvertently and contributes to the sense of systemic racism many may feel. 

Featured Resources

2022 State of the multi-cloud report

What are the biggest multi-cloud motivations for decision-makers, and what are the leading challenges

Free Download

The Total Economic Impact™ of IBM robotic process automation

Cost savings and business benefits enabled by robotic process automation

Free Download

Multi-cloud data integration for data leaders

A holistic data-fabric approach to multi-cloud integration

Free Download

MLOps and trustworthy AI for data leaders

A data fabric approach to MLOps and trustworthy AI

Free Download

Most Popular

How to boot Windows 11 in Safe Mode
Microsoft Windows

How to boot Windows 11 in Safe Mode

15 Nov 2022
The top 12 password-cracking techniques used by hackers

The top 12 password-cracking techniques used by hackers

14 Nov 2022
Ex-Twitter tech lead says platform's infrastructure can sustain engineering layoffs

Ex-Twitter tech lead says platform's infrastructure can sustain engineering layoffs

23 Nov 2022