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Discussion on: Replacing master in git

dandv profile image
Dan Dascalescu • Edited

"Master/slave is an oppressive metaphor".

There are so many problems with that statement that what I initially wrote as a quick response has turned into a longer post. Read it at 8 problems with replacing "master" in Git.

This comment is only kept for historical purposes.

First off...

1. There's no "slave" in Git.

Maybe RAID disk arrays would have this problem, but not git. So there's no "master/slave" metaphor in Git to speak of.

2. Words change meanings over time

"Master" is a term used the recording industry, or to talk about skill ("Master of Science", "Kung Fu Master" etc.). I'm not a native English speaker so "master" was strange to me too, but in American English "master" has been far more commonly used in the past 50 years to talk about vinyl records and CDs and degrees and expertise, than slavery. As someone else said,

These terms have existed for decades and now suddenly we feel they're racially loaded? I think this is a knee jerk reaction to a problem that doesn't exist.

3. Nothing is oppressive by itself

People choose meanings. Epictetus famously said this of insults (and "master" is far from an insult, but to illustrate the point):

“Remember, it is not enough to be insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. It is not he who reviles you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting."

4. Who does the word "master" really offend?

Has anyone ever complained of being oppressed when they saw a "master" branch in a Git repo? From what I've seen so far, black developers haven't felt offended by this word.

Blacks don't give a damn

5. What are the downsides of this rename?

When making a decision of this scale, that invalidates 15 years of scripts and CI processes and Git tutorials using the word "master", it would help to see its ROI. If nobody is actually choosing to be offended by this word, then all we're doing is wasting time changing a perfectly working process just to virtue-signal that we're "woke", while annoying far more people in the process and wasting their time when "master" won't work and "principal" will break things. Do consider that the vast majority of developers have nothing to do with oppression, and have never intended to oppress anyone.

6. Is this purely a PR move?

But hey, by being outspoken against "master", brands benefit from stoking the fires of racial conflict to elevate themselves in the eyes of consumers. Sony, an organization using cobalt mined by literal black slaves, including children, is in favor of BLM. GitHub renaming a branch is a cheap PR stunt when they could do far more meaningful things, like not working with the ICE:

Github contact with the ICE

...or not banning Iranian developers, suggesting they use GitHub to develop nuclear weapons.

7. What shall we rename next?

Slaves were hanged from branches at some point, should the word "branch" be changed? How about the Lighthouse web speed auditing tool? Light is usually white... How about the Invictus poem? Let's ban it!

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul

8. Is this humiliating to black developers?

Last, and worst, by removing the word "master" blindly, we're uncritically reproducing a narrative that diminishes black agency in favor of a white-centric explanation. We're making the assumption that a black developer can't take the word "master" as simply a label and nothing more. Don't you think black developers may find that assumption humiliating?

olivierjm profile image
Olivier JM Maniraho

I totally agree with your points, I think these kind of changes are only making things worse than they were before, I never heard anyone who ever complained about this term.

I am a developer and I am black(not speaking for anyone else of color) yet I have never felt offended by a word I see in a software that I use or don't use, I think there are far much better things we can do as a community if we agree to live with our different cultures.

premedios profile image
Pedro Remedios

Well I'm not changing! Master stays! Period!

aleksandrhovhannisyan profile image
Aleksandr Hovhannisyan

It's like one of those parodies where white people make a remark about something "black", realize that they said this in the presence of a black person in the background, and feel compelled to assure them by clarifying that they weren't actually talking about black people, when that thought never crossed the person's mind. It's ironically the very kind of racist behavior that OP and GitHub claim to oppose.

kewi69 profile image
Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community. View Code of Conduct
Kenneth Wilhelmsson

I really expected this to be a joke. But horrifiedly it seems to be real to some people. This mass hysteria is very strange to me. People really are that stupid.
Lets destroy all history and never learn anything from the past. Yeah
Anyone ever checked the skin color of someone doing a pull request before looking at the code?
It's cray.

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