Key Linux kernel maintainers have largely welcomed a new proposal by Intel engineer and fellow kernel maintainer Dan Williams to introduce inclusive terminology in the kernel's official coding-style document.
The first to sign off on Williams' proposal were Chris Mason and Greg Kroah-Hartman. But other maintainers have approved the proposal too, which requires kernel developers to avoid using the words 'slave', for development trees and branches, and 'blacklist'.
Williams argues that non-inclusive terminology distracts maintainers and "injures developer efficiency".
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The recommended replacements for 'slave' are 'secondary', 'subordinate', 'replica', 'responder', 'follower', 'proxy', or 'performer'. Instead of blacklist, developers should use 'blocklist' or 'denylist'.
"In 2020 there was a global reckoning on race relations that caused many organizations to re-evaluate their policies and practices relative to the inclusion of people of African descent," Williams argues.
"The revelation of 2020 was that black voices were heard on a global scale and the Linux kernel project has done its small part to answer that call as it wants black voices, among all voices, in its developer community."
Microsoft-owned GitHub is also planning to drop master/slave and blacklist/whitelist terminology from the site as part of its response to the BLM protests.
Williams also deals with the expected opposition to a ban on the term blacklist, which has racial connotations when used today even if the term wasn't created with race in mind – compared with 'slave', which is tied to a history of human misery.
And he's against the idea of replacing blacklist/whitelist with different colors because understanding the meaning of colors always comes from a particular social or historical context, and this runs counter to the goal of inclusion.
"While 'slave' has a direct connection to human suffering, the etymology of 'blacklist' is devoid of a historical racial connection. However, one thought exercise is to consider replacing 'blacklist/whitelist' with 'redlist/greenlist'," he writes.
"Realize that the replacement only makes sense if you have been socialized with the concepts that 'red/green' implies 'stop/go'. Colors to represent a policy requires an indirection. The socialization of 'black/white' to have the connotation of 'impermissible/permissible' does not support inclusion."
Kernel maintainer Dave Airlie agreed that using colors to represent a policy is just a bad idea, even if there is no racist connotation or intent.
"I'd totally submit that red/black trees while in no way racist, are a horrible indirection, as it means nothing if you've never interacted with gambling culture, (and maybe James Bond movies)," wrote Airlie.
"Left/right trees make naturally more sense and translate into more languages, so yes I think removal of color naming is a good thing even for non-racist reasonings."
Willy Tarreau, a veteran kernel maintainer, was concerned that as a non-native English speaker, he may need to apply more filtering on words and that "to figure whether they are allowed by the language police is even more difficult".
"*This* injures developers' efficiency," he argued.
Mason suggested to Tarreau that among kernel developers there's little reason to be concerned about language police.
"Inside the kernel, it's just a group of developers trying to help each other produce the best quality of code. We've got a long history together and in general I think we're pretty good at assuming good intent," wrote Mason.
Tarreau also thinks that instead of a blocklist of words to be avoided, the project should avoid all words taken from the non-technical world. Mason agreed with this point.