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Discussion on: 9 problems with replacing "master" in Git

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woubuc profile image
Wouter • Edited on

I agree completely with your 5th point. Updating all our legacy setups would be pain to say the least, and it shouldn't be necessary. So luckily, it isn't. Nobody in the BLM movement is asking you to go back and change history. The question is, once we know something is perhaps not 100% okay, should we be considerate and use a different term going forward when setting up new projects and repositories? To which the answer is simply that yes, we should. We can still use master in existing repos, while acknowledging that this is a legacy term from a time when we didn't know any better. Just like we're not going to banish the works by Lovecraft or Tolkien, but we can acknowledge today that they were written in a different time and a different context where racism was more widely accepted and prevalent.

One of the reasons this discussion is so high-profile right now in the developer community is not at all that it's critically important to change "master". It really isn't, it's silly and insignificant at best and there are so many other more important issues to focus on today. But vehemently defending something that people have flagged as problematic because "you didn't intend it that way" instead of acknowledging that you can do better, is not really accepting of other people's viewpoints and experiences.

This stance can also actively work towards silencing people (especially POC) who do speak up. And this goes much further than one silly version control term that barely anybody actually cares about.

Regarding your first couple of points, you are correct that "master" in the context of Git wasn't meant to be racist. It also wasn't meant to be anything significant, it was a quick decision made long ago by someone who now themselves feel that it should be changed. So arguing we should keep it because of historic context and "it's always been this way" doesn't really hold much ground either. Not to mention the fact that other version control systems use "trunk" or "main" so there are other alternatives out there that are just as valid, that don't invite this kind of inflammatory discourse.

I also want to note that your 7th point is a slippery slope fallacy bordering on reductio ad absurdum, an argument designed to evoke an emotional reaction against something completely ridiculous that nobody is actually saying, and doesn't hold any ground.

Your 8th point is absolutely valid, but it's not an or situation. It's a yes and, where we can simply change the wording to make our language more inclusive, and then continue to worry about and work on all the other issues.

Lastly, your 9th point shows some confirmation bias and even more so selection bias, considering the racial discrepancy in our developer communities (recruitinginnovation.com/blog/dive...) and the by now fairly well-documented trend of minorities not speaking up as much or simply being drowned out by the dominant (white-centric) discource (thecut.com/2017/03/the-spiral-of-s...).

So in conclusion: yes, changing master to main is silly. It's not a significant change for anyone (regardless of which side of BLM/racism they're on), and it's probably mostly a PR stunt by companies wanting to pat themselves on the back. And yes, we should still acknowledge it and change our terminology going forward, simply because continuing the discussion against it is pointless and actively helps to reinforce the implicit bias and inherent racism that's so entrenched in our culture, including in this case specifically the harmful stance that we don't need to listen to POC who speak up and that their claims and demands are "ridiculous". Because they're not, and we should collectively check our bias.

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tdreid profile image
Trevor Reid

The name master branch is 100% okay. Changing it is silly as you say. We should indeed resist silly changes because change itself is never without cost. Moreover acquiescing to silliness in the face of manufactured indignation merely invites the next even sillier and more pointless proposal.

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dandv profile image
Dan Dascalescu Author

Thanks for pointing out that my list of slippery slope instance could be interpreted as an argument that we shouldn't rename "master". I've updated the post to hopefully clarify that.

I did search for evidence that black developers were offended by the word "master" in Git, but haven't found any so far. (Admittedly, I don't know a lot of black developers and I don't pretend to be their voice either or speak for them either). Happy to include evidence to the contrary if presented.

But let's say we did uncover a few who were offended by the term "master" used within git (and not trolling about it). Would that justify inflicting confusion and unnecessary effort on clearly many more developers, making some black developers directly uncomfortable, and ultimately being US-supremacist? I didn't see much pondering of this trolley problem; rather, knee-jerk initiatives and reactions.

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woubuc profile image
Wouter • Edited on

Thank you for updating your post. Point 7 reads a little more nuanced now, although I still believe it's a slippery slope.

Interesting about the .bro extension story, I hadn't heard about that! I haven't really read up on the impact of 'bro culture' (although I've heard that it can be toxic in some situations) so I don't know how valid the complaint was/is. But in general, my stance is that if someone takes issue with something (assuming it's at least somewhat tangentially valid), and it doesn't really mean anything to the other side, then why wouldn't we make our language more inclusive.

Here's a Twitter thread I came across earlier today asking black developers just that question. It turns out many of them are in favour, for various reasons (some of which I touched on in my reply). Very informative, I learned a lot from reading through the replies and subsequent discussions.

Regarding your linked arguments, the author of the first tweet you quoted immediately followed it up with "The people quoting this as an argument against the change are very clearly racist though." which is direct and maybe a little harsh, but it does drive his point home - people pushing back against this change are showing their inherent bias because there shouldn't be a logical argument that is stronger than "make our language more inclusive and less racist" unless they're actually racist and opposed to inclusivity. Even if we're just talking about something as silly and insignificant as the default name of a Git branch.

Regarding the US-supremacist argument, that's simply not true. European countries have just as much of a racism problem. There are BLM marches and protests in several major European cities, with for instance London experiencing white supremacist violence similar to what I've seen from the US.

It may not be as bad in Europe as in the US, because most European countries don't have an openly racist leader who actively incites and encourages violence against minorities, but all western countries have their own problems with race and discrimination. I live in Belgium and the same things do happen here - we also have white supremacist organisations that get in the news from time to time for attacking or killing POC, we have news stories about police killing innocent black people, and nationalist political parties lobbying for things like deporting non-white people and more use of force by police (wikipedia does not do the tone and impact of their propaganda justice but their own material is only in Dutch). I also know at least one coworker who recently argued that "negro" should still be an acceptable term because they "don't mean it pejoratively, it's just a word" - and that's very anecdotal but it shows that people like this do exist everywhere. Of course I can't directly speak to the general climate in other countries but racism is definitely not a US-only thing.

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lonelymoon profile image
Hung Luong

Are you sure you are not committing the straw man fallacy? Your arguments doesn't counter his; and you are making conclusion not really based on anything discussed.

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woubuc profile image
Wouter • Edited on

That's because I generally agree with most of his points (apart from 7 and 8 specifically which I did directly address), but I disagree with the implied conclusion that these points are valid reasons why we shouldn't change our terminology going forward.

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lonelymoon profile image
Hung Luong

Even if that's the case, I am saying that your arguments aren't conclusive either.

Saying that we should change even just to avoid this particular mess is exactly what makes the slippery slope a valid argument. What is next mess that need to be politically correct? Do we engineers now have to design/build/name things with the fear that 30 years later somebody would dig back our mail thread to determine if we were correct or not?

Besides, it was never mentioned that we should silence anyone. In fact, all of us should speak our mind. But do we have a choice in this? No. We (including non-US and non-English speakers) have to accept this. And every voice against it means the speaker is a racist? And you say that we should just silently accept it for the sake of not reinforcing some "implicit bias" about race?

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woubuc profile image
Wouter

No one is arguing that we need to vilify people who made decisions 30 years ago. This isn't a matter of "those people were wrong" because at the time, they weren't. Different time have different standards and it would be ridiculous to suggest that someone who lived X years ago should have behaved according to today's standards.

People are simply asking for everyone to start being more respectful and inclusive in the language we use, which to be seems fairly cut-and-dry. We're talking about a word that means something negative to one side, and that is "just a word" to the other side, so why would we not all agree to start using a term that's "just a word" to all sides, out of respect for everyone?

Let's take out the slippery slope argument for a second. Let's say this is literally the only change you ever have to make and then everyone is happy. Would you change it then? And if yes, then why is it so much more difficult to do while also acknowledging that there may be more work needed in the future to make our language and society inclusive, equal and just for everyone?

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lonelymoon profile image
Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community. View Code of Conduct
Hung Luong

And no one is arguing that we should not be respectful to anyone, black or white or yellow or whatever. Intentions are almost never bad. But it is always the action stemming from those intentions that is the problem.

How can you say that the name change is "more respectful and inclusive in the language we use" while at the same time, refuting that it is not significant at all for anyone? If you say that it should not matter to me to accept it, why does it matter to you that I have to accept it? You are free to name your branches however you like, for whatever agenda you pursuit. I like to name my branch master because it's the first thing I learned about Git. Do I not deserve that respect?

I'd also like to say that I am Asian, living in Asia. Not that my race matter, I am merely providing a context as to how I feel regarding all this US-central bullshit. Some black man died half the world away - a sad matter, yet now I have to be all respectful and inclusive and need to have all this SJ forced down my throat. Would you be happy if you were me?

Finally, I never argued that we are living in a perfect world. But accepting halfhearted political PR stunt is - in my opinion - doing more harm than good. I draw the line at policing my language to express myself or my work. This change maybe small and insignificant to you, but the frog got boiled alive.

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dandv profile image
Dan Dascalescu Author • Edited on

Perhaps strongly worded, but this is a valid point I also linked to: developers far away who are not and have never been involved in this US/UK/Germany racial/slavery debate, have to suffer its consequences.

There's one more thing in it. People blindly imply that all other world should care about US internal problems. There are lots of countries that just don't have these racial problems US has.

And for some reason we (non-US people) should also be affected. I have personally seen people forcing this change for projects made by Bulgarian, Russian, Kirgiz, and Indonesian people. It just makes no sense!

I'm not sure why @hung 's post was marked "low quality". I think collateral damage is an important point.

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lonelymoon profile image
Hung Luong

Could be my wording that is the problem and I apologise if that's the case. Although the CoC also seems to draw a very fine line regarding acceptable stance in matter like this.

Nevertheless, it is great to see you including our voices in yours as well. Non-US/non-English speaking engineers seem to be drowned in this debate for no good reason.

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tdreid profile image
Trevor Reid

It's not exactly a straw man fallacy, it's actually a form of begging the question. When wouter says "there shouldn't be a logical argument that is stronger than 'make our language more inclusive and less racist," it implies the rejection of logic based on reaching an a conclusion that has been predetermined to be unacceptable.

To me, as a black software developer, the idea of making a "more inclusive and less racist" language sounds like a road to Newspeak and thought policing -- meanwhile it's distracting, wasteful and disrespectful of my professional time.

The time I spend renaming 'main' to 'master' to preserve compatibility with existing tools, workflows and established convention will be in the running to exceed even the time-tax of the Stoopid Cookie Rule.