Linux team approves new terminology, bans terms like 'blacklist' and 'slave'

Linux creator Linus Torvalds puts stamp on proposal to use neutral language in kernel code and documentation.

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Linus Torvalds approved on Friday a new and more inclusive terminology for the Linux kernel code and documentation.

Going forward, Linux developers have been asked to use new terms for the master/slave and blacklist/whitelist terminologies.

Proposed alternatives for master/slave include:

  • primary/secondary
  • main/replica or subordinate
  • initiator/target
  • requester/responder
  • controller/device
  • host/worker or proxy
  • leader/follower
  • director/performer

Proposed alternatives for blacklist/whitelist include:

  • denylist/allowlist
  • blocklist/passlist

The Linux team did not recommend any specific terms but asked developers to choose as appropriate.

The new terms are to be used for new source code written for the Linux kernel and its associated documentation.

The older terms, considered inadequate now, will only be allowed for maintaining older code and documentation, or "when updating code for an existing (as of 2020) hardware or protocol specification that mandates those terms."

The move to phase out the master/slave and blacklist/whitelist terminologies came after a proposal filed by Linux kernel maintainer Dan Williams on July 4. Linux creator Linus Torvalds approved the proposal on Friday in a pull request for the Linux 5.8 repository.

A general trend in the tech community

The Linux team has now joined many tech companies and open-source projects that have removed references to racially-charged jargon from their code for more neutral and inclusive language.

The list includes Twitter, GitHub, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Ansible, Red Hat, Splunk, Android, Go, MySQL, PHPUnit, Curl, OpenZFS, Rust, JP Morgan, and others.

The trend to clean-up insensitive language from source code, tools, and tech documentation began after Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the US, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.

The primary goal of these efforts is to make tech products and IT environments more welcoming for people of color.

Some members of the tech community have criticized the movement as shallow virtue signaling rather than an action that helps people of color against systematic racism. However, work published in academic journals has previously argued that continuing to use racially-charged terms prolongs racial stereotypes.