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Apple banishes technical language like ‘blacklist’, ‘master branch’ that has racial overtones

This effort to move technical language away from racist terms like slave, master etc has been going on for years but has gathered significant momentum recently thanks to the Black Lives Matter protests that gripped the US.
This effort to move technical language away from racist terms like slave, master etc has been going on for years but has gathered significant momentum recently thanks to the Black Lives Matter protests that gripped the US. (REUTERS)

In an effort to push to more inclusive language, Apple has joined other tech heavyweights like Twitter and Microsoft in banishing technical language that has racial overtones like ‘blacklist’ and ‘master branch’ etc.

Apple has joined the likes of Twitter and Microsoft to get on board an industry trend that’s working towards a more inclusive technical language free of terms and words that have racial overtones like ‘blacklist’ or ‘master branch’.

Apple has started making changes in its own documentation and beta software that was released at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) last month but the company has now started describing changes in language more directly on its developer website for programmers. This, of course, has to come first since terminology changes can affect how code works.

"At Apple, we're working to remove and replace non-inclusive language across our developer ecosystem, including within Xcode, platform APIs [application programming interfaces], documentation, and open source projects," the Apple says on its developer site.

This effort to move technical language away from racist terms like slave, master etc has been going on for years but has gathered significant momentum recently thanks to the Black Lives Matter protests that gripped the US. Those pushing for these linguistic changes are not expecting it to help ‘cure’ racism and racial injustice but it is being done to address the issue in any and all domains where it can be done - including technical language.

One of the first platforms to kick off this push to drop racist language was Twitter - it started the process in January this year. This move was triggered when Black programmer Regynald Augustin received an email with the phrase "automatic slave rekick". While this phrase was a part of an engineering discussion about ‘restarting a secondary process’, Augustin was triggered and ‘madder’ than he ever thought he could get while at work.

Microsoft is also making similar changes to GitHub and Google has also discussed similar plans for its Google Chromium project.

For Apple, they are replacing words/terms like ‘blacklist’ with ‘deny list’, ‘master branch’ with ‘main branch’, ‘whitelist’ to ‘allow list’ etc and when talking about people, ‘Black’ is not capitalised.

These new changes that were announced on Tuesday have been included in Apple’s Style Guide and Apple is encouraging its developers to use alternatives that are appropriate to the context, such as deny list/allow list or unapproved list/approved list in the case of blacklist/whitelist for example.

For master/slave entry, Apple advises developers to not use these words to describe the relationship between two devices or processes but use alternatives like primary/secondary, primary/replica, host/client etc.

Apple said that developers should watch out for these changes since it might affect their apps on the Apple interface.

The company explained that developer APIs with exclusionary terms will be deprecated as these replacements across internal codebases, public APIs, and open source projects, such as WebKit and Swift roll in.

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