Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/07/03/some-organizations-to-retire-n.html
Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/07/03/some-organizations-to-retire-n.html
While I think some of this is performative, I do appreciate that everyone is taking the time to look at how we’ve encoded the language of racial disparity into every day vocabulary. Removing and changing it is one way of beginning the process of weakening systemic racism. How we talk about things can be a very powerful force of propaganda. Language is often one pillar of powerful systems that are resistant to change.
Sure, offensive terminology should be removed, but this is much easier than substantial change like using headhunting firms that are not lily-white to source executive positions, or using measures of statistical significance in determining whether low minority representation in your ranks is evidence of racial bias.
We need to demand corporations go beyond signaling (which is by definition cheap and empty) and move towards genuine redressal of grievous historic wrongs, such as redlining by banks.
It’s true this terminology is offensive, but, in my mind, changing this terminology is not about eliminating some offensive terms. It’s about recognizing that racism is system and deeply ingrained into our society in zillions of ways both large (like our “justice” system) and small (like our vocabulary and jargon).
A lot of people believe that racism comes from racist individuals, and it does. But even if we could magically eliminate all bias from every heart and mind, we’d still live in a racist society. Racism permeates our laws, our educational systems, our zoning rules, our geography, our financial systems, our democracy, our everything.
Changing tech terms is indeed a very minor change. But the fact that something so small makes the news might help open the eyes of people who think they don’t need to do anything because they personally aren’t racist. But we all need to do our part because it’s not just about fixing ourselves but rooting the bias out of the systems we’ve built.
I can (and do) support reforms that eliminate real problems of inequity built into our systems. But I, alone, can’t change those systems. I don’t decide who gets hired nor which recruiting firms my employer uses. I can submit patches that improve the terminology used by software projects. I can help upgrade our project’s antique build system to a newer version that doesn’t refer to build machines as “slaves.” Yeah, it’s not hard and it doesn’t change much.
I can also jump into discussions to try to explain that removing “offensive terminology” is one of the millions of fixes we all need to work on to repair our society.
I failed to trace the etymology of “blacklist” or the corresponding German term “schwarze Liste” (which by no means is limited to IT) but I’d be very surprised if there was any racist connection. Referring to large groups of people by a crude approximation of their skin color is probably a more recent phenomenon than most instances of using the color “black” to denote something negative.
There is merit in the idea of changing language that offends. Sometimes, though, language really is innocent until someone demands it be changed, dividing the world from that moment on into the “everyone who still says this is a *-ist” camp and the “if you’re offended, then I’ll be happy about it” camp.
Trace the etymology of describing all bad things as “black”, and all good things as “white.” That’s the propaganda.
Blacklist and Whitelist may seem innocent, but the underlying coding is pretty clearly racist and always has been. And people have been pointing that out for a long enough time that such terminology is long overdue for correction.
Edit: And I would argue language is NEVER innocent. We may approach it innocently, but that does not mean a word is without a variety of meanings, freighted with the weight of centuries of societal choices.
I don’t follow. How is that so obvious when the “black = dark = night = bad things” equation has also been in use in for centuries even in parts of Europe that had no significant contact with and no popular knowledge of Black people until the 1700s?
When at some time during the middle ages, a woman in Central Europe was executed for allegedly participating in a Black Mass, I highly doubt that racism had anything to do with that particular injustice.
Even if the language starts out innocent, it can lose its innocence by association. So it can be wise to swap out terms that become tainted that way no matter what their actual etymology is.
Because there were IBM geeks in the mid 80’s trying to figure out how to name the IDE 0/1 system, and then one of them drove up in his General Lee car and said the obvious choice is “master” & “slave” because the IDE is the electronic equivalent to plantations and…
Mastercraft , Master Lock… all gotta change now because words in a language that infer superiority or advantage are blatantly racist? The guys down in marketing are going to lose their shit.
But… if we’re going to advance as a society for the better, then renaming aspects of this specification is the logical place to start.
But if you go with ‘Boss’ and ‘Worker’ then the labour movement might have something to say…
The Bible types don’t like these in their computers:
Uh, No. Check your history, friend, because that’s wrong. Europe had contact with Africans long before this. Spain, in particular, was ruled by the Moors for centuries after their successful invasion in the 7th century, 1000 years before this.
Contact with Africa was widespread long before the 17th century. And yes, racism existed before the 17th century. To see it in action, you only need to examine thousands of years of Jewish history and pogroms against them. It is not great leap to recognize that the whites who continually expelled the Jews and blacks might have used dark or black to mean bad things. And there are studies that examine this usage and it’s racial connotations.
The early church also used black to represent evil. Jerome wrote a homily about Psalm 86. Black people were supposedly “blackened by their sins.” When they begged forgiveness, they were washed clean and became white. Thus, Christianity perpetuates a myth that black equals bad.
Note: I don’t currently have a JSTOR login, but here’s Jerome’s homilies, including his homily on Psalm 86: https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt284twm
Whatever the core root of the black/white dichotomy, it’s become deeply rooted in racist and religious dogma over many thousands of years and should be dismantled for less stereotypical wordings. Greenlist and Redlist for example, instead of blacklist and whitelist.
Okay, so when my business makes money, I’m “in the black”, but when my business loses money, I’m “in the red”.
I just need to know what to change that to.
Also, I know a lot of people named Schwartz and Weiss. What should I be calling them?
I’ll check back later for help with Rosen, Greenberg, Bluestein, and Brown.
Will the city of Amarillo be renamed?
/End hilariously satirical mini-rant
I am, indeed, saddened by the mocking hot-takes in this topic.
I created the tickets to remove these terms at my Day Job™. I did this after speaking with the few POC we have in our part of the org. Their take was, essentially: "They’re so used to this terminology being pervasive in society that they’ve learned to tune it out, but that, objectively, our technology shouldn’t be about domination or violence, and that removing these terms shows a willingness on the part of the organization as a whole to recognize a need for change of our language at a systemic level, even if the specific terms aren’t themselves directly causing offence at this moment to anyone.
I don’t know if those with glib attitudes towards this sort of thing mirror the stances other folks have towards removing other symbols of systemic racism like the confederate flag and monuments, but IMHO the point of those actions are identical to these ones - a signal that we are willing to confront systemic racism everywhere it exists, even if it requires effort on our parts to change behaviours, terminologies, or traditions that we personally may not consider “a big deal”. The forest of racism is made up of many, many individual trees.
When I see “blacklist” I think of Will Geer and Pete Seeger and way too many people who landed in that situation because others didn’t like what they believed in.
What I’m concerned about is that it’s easy to campaign for cosmetic change, easy to make cosmetic change. And I’m not sure what the people directly affected think because it’s mostly white people telling the story.
There’s a big different between the outrage of third parties and the rage of people directly affected. There’s a big difference between “this will affect people” and “this hurts me”.
There are a couple of local columnists that are so ardent about issues of racism, but every time they write about it I’m thinking the people directly affected aren’t speaking. They can speak for themselves, but it’s often over there. The columnists write on the most obvious things, they aren’t telling us anything knew. They miss endless stories, and I think the stories would be different if someone else was writing.
For white people it’s a cause, for black or natives it’s their life. There’s a difference, and other people often act before actually listening.
We aren’t spectators, we are participants. We don’t have the same roles. But it’s not about government or someone else changing, it’s about many of us needing to change so it rises up.
Few want to be racists, few are racists. But that’s only if “racism” is those people who spew hate. It’s way deeper tgan that.
There’s lots that can happen until something changes and we look back and think “I was dumb”. I won’t give an example because it seemed innocuous and I know better now. It isn’t solved by declarations (the cliche of “some of my best friends…” makes an exception rather than extend one instance to a greater thinking) , it’s solved by individuals changing.
We can go on forever erasing statues and language, but it doesn’t bring forward different stories that may make people really change. Those different stories are way more important than how bad some historical figure or term was.
People have been saying that about this kind of thing… and I get it, it’s a surface, cosmetic change… but I wonder if those matter in that if we “perform” something enough, it becomes habit and hence can shape our experiences and understanding of the world around us?
Anyway, just an idle thought. I agree with you about this being part of the process of weakening systemic racism.
Yes. Some (who is it? Structuralist? Deconstructionists? I can’t remember, some obtuse french philosophers…) argue that it is our primary way of experiencing reality?
What parts would that be? There is no point in history where Europe was ever cut off from the rest of the world…
No. It’s not the word “master,” it’s the word master in the context of something being “slaved” to it. Master in terms of mastery of a skill or craft is fine. Grandmaster, master and apprentice, master electrician, master’s degree, these are all fine.
US society consists of the owners and the owned, at least in elitist thought. If you ain’t rich, you ain’t shit. How to soften that in tech terms? Will networks consist of the leaders and the followers? Yikes.
I never said “Europe had no contact”. I said “in parts of Europe that had no significant contact”. Spain obviously wasn’t such a part.
75 years ago, Black American soldiers were the first face-to-face contact many Austrians had with Black people. And another 30 years before that, Vienna was still the capital of a locally significant power, and the Black population was still minute.
If you go back to the middle ages, then it was definitely known that dark-skinned people exist elsewhere (even as “close” as Spain!), but I bet they weren’t a “common sight”, and most people might never have met one at all.
To cultivate “proper” systemic racism that is specifically directed against one particular group of “different” people, as opposed to a general feeling of superiority over everyone else, the victims somehow have to feature in the public imagination. As you point out, there was plenty of racism against Jews. But outside of the colonizing nations of Europe, Black people were either a “tale from faraway lands” or an “exotic curiosity”. So why should the average medieval inhabitant of Central Europe have encoded the present-day American white-black dichotomy of race into their language? It doesn’t compute.
Which works perfectly. And as I said, it makes sense to make such a switch even if the “black” in blacklist might have a harmless origin.
After all, things that look like racism have the same effect as actual racism on everyone who didn’t personally do all the necessary research to distinguish the two (and even then, there is obviously room for debate).