Removing harmful language from my lexicon

The recent Black Lives Matter movement being thrust into the foreground by the death of George Floyd has caused me to reflect on my thoughts & behaviours around race.

How can I use my privilege as a white middle-aged man to tackle systemic racism?

Something within my gift to change is my language. Words matter as words are powerful.

Changing my language is part of a bigger plan to more actively call out racism & sexism where I see it.

This post is about how I am changing my language to be less harmful, not only to race, but also sex & patriarchy.

I’ll admit from the outset, this is a tiny, tiny step & I am keen to do more – I’ve been a passenger on my journey so far. Now I am the driver.

I always try to use words specific for the context & this is a change I have been making quietly for a number of years.

So why am I writing this post now?

I want to accelerate the changing of my language. I want to tackle systemic racism. This post makes me accountable. Hopefully, others will also benefit from the list

Mixed opinions on changing terms

There are many opinions around changing our words to be less harmful. These include (largely from the Twitter threads referenced below):

  • Words have the power we give them, change your relationship with the word
  • Changing the words doesn’t necessarily change the bias
  • What’s the point in changing words? If you want change, you need to get out there & vote / march / protest

I agree with all these. I’m focusing on what I can do now to make a change.

Obviously, there are also people who disagree with the idea of changing words altogether.

I don’t completely understand their position (largely because their argument is constrained within Twitter), but as I see it, regardless of race or sex, the amended terms actually more helpful & are less ambiguous.

Helpful terms

Here’s my list of terms I’ve collected from various sources (most of which are contained in the references below)

HarmfulHelpful
BlacklistBlock list
Deny list
Exclusion list
Exclude list
WhitelistAllow list
Safe list
Permit list
Inclusion list
Blackhat (hacker)Unethical
Malicious
Malevolent
Malignant
Bad
Whitehat (hacker)Ethical
Benevolent
Benign
Good
Blackbox (testing)Closed box
Opaque glassbox
Frosted glass box
Mystery box
Whitebox (testing)Glass box
Clear box
MasterPrimary
Parent
Leader
Conductor (orchestra)
SlaveSecondary
Replica
Child
Worker
Follower
Musician (orchestra)
Mob programmingWhole Team (Woody, 2012)
Swarming
Herd programming (Covid19 inspired)
Troop
GrandfatherLegacy
WhitespaceEmptyspace
Master branchTrunk
Main branch

I have to smile when I see people twig the relationship between “trunk” as an alternative for main/master branch (“trunk” was actually my introduction to pipeline development back in 2009)

Hungry for more

Do you have any helpful terms I haven’t included here?

Are any of these new to you?

What are your thoughts on changing your language?

References on changing terms

Adelin Cai Twitter Thread

Leah Culver Twitter Thread

‘Master/Slave’ Terminology Was Removed from Python Programming Language

UK NCSC to stop using ‘whitelist’ and ‘blacklist’ due to racial stereotyping

Monzo Tone of Voice

“Blacklists” and “whitelists”: a salutary warning concerning the prevalence of racist language in discussions of predatory publishing

The Racial History Of The ‘Grandfather Clause’

Etymology of the word “mob”

References on understanding race

10 Books About Race To Read Instead Of Asking A Person Of Color To Explain Things To You

Introduction to Being an Antiracist (including the Seeing White podcasts )