07.12.20

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Why We Care About (Mis)Use of Language in Technology

Posted in Deception, Free/Libre Software at 4:51 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Appearances of people will not change just because we ban or remove words describing some appearance or condition (irrespective of context)

Star Trek tomorrow is yesterday: Captain, the crew is becoming disobedient; I can't take orders from one whose ears are so long

Summary: Software development communities are being divided over issues that would likely not tackle actual racism in any meaningful and profound way (just a symbolic way)

Over the past few weeks we’ve published about a dozen posts (some of which suggestive or humourous memes) about the subject of inclusive language in technology.

Readers should be aware: it’s a risky thing to do! Some people would get upset irrespective of the substance of the argument. To them, if you do not fully and entirely agree with them, that immediately and unquestionably makes you a zealot, a part of the problem so to speak. If you agree with them only partly, well… then wait for the next demand… and the one after that…

“Right off the bat, let’s be clear that people don’t have to be racist or misogynistic to oppose these changes.”This discourages many people who would otherwise speak out and express their position reasonably and politely. Our use of humour is intended to soften the message somewhat.

Right off the bat, let’s be clear that people don’t have to be racist or misogynistic to oppose these changes. For one thing — and this is something we’ve seen explained by the supposed victims already — it’s addressing the lesser or the wrong problem, possibly quite wrongly too. Racism is real and the concept of institutional racism is easily demonstrable. It’s a real, legitimate problem. But large corporations don’t want to damage their bottom line; it’s cheaper to resort to PR stunts and face-saving moves than to train people of colour or women; heck, they don’t even pay women who already work for them equally!

The Linux Foundation, for instance, wrote a blog post and some tweets about black people; but it doesn't hire any. It’s not really interested. It’s like people who speak about racism against blacks but would never date a black person. Pretense is cheap and one has to assume that blacks are dumb to expect them to not understand the real stupidity and exploitation by the Linux Foundation. The Linux Foundation impresses nobody but itself and perhaps those who look like its board and management team (nope, zero African-Americans there; how very inclusive).

“The Linux Foundation impresses nobody but itself and perhaps those who look like its board and management team (nope, zero African-Americans there).”So going back to the subject of language, let’s say we remove every word that activists demand we replace with something else (that would require lots of subsequent testing as breakage would be inevitable in very large and complex programs, not to mention add-ons and plug-ins that make assumptions about APIs and are developed separately/independently). Would that get more minorities into college? Would more of them be capable of obtaining a computer science (CS or similar) degree? Need we provide examples of extortionate tuition fees and student loans in the United States? And even if they graduate, that does not guarantee success in job interviews. The people who assess their CV aren’t going to be swayed by names of variables (or language in comments) that they may or may not have seen in computer code. It’s very, very difficult to get into technical jobs, especially when you grow up poor and ‘suit’ (or ‘fit’) some widespread stigma. Challenging the stigma by code and documentation is a nice idea in theory; how many people out there think of a black person when they see or read the word “blacklist” in some technical documentation or a GUI? Heck, if you think of a black person when someone says “blackhat hacker” (cracker), maybe you have a subconscious issue like racism. Like “black magic” or “black mirror” and many other things, that has nothing whatsoever to do with skin colour. And guess what? The darkness (or blackness) of the night scares white and black children equally.

The whole thing started not this year; not due to BLM.

“It has long been said that in class war the high class tries to distract the ‘masses’ by propping up (contributing to) race-related tensions and exaggerating race issues.”Remember when some people inside Python sought to replace the word “slave” with something else? I thought this was partly reasonable and worth considering. Not too long afterwards the founder of Python stepped down and shortly thereafter retired completely (left his daytime job). Proving a correlation may not be possible. But what we can certainly see is that GAFAM nowadays takes control of Python and outsources almost everything to Microsoft (GitHub). How’s that for injustice worth tackling? Almost nobody even talks about it…

It has long been said that in class war the high class tries to distract the ‘masses’ by propping up (contributing to) race-related tensions and exaggerating race issues. One example is sectarian violence (mastered by the British Empire). Never mind if that high class perpetuates exploitation like nobody else. In the past few weeks, for example, how many people spoke about corporate crimes compared to race issues that are accentuated by corporate media controlled (usually also owned) by the high class? That’s not to say that media should ignore the race issues; but the tone or nature of some of the coverage instigates and increases divisiveness (not over wealth but over identity, notably gender and race). Where’s the part in this latest activism wave which speaks of fair wages? Or healthcare? When did we encounter a CoC that says it’s wrong to bomb people (and let’s face it, those bombed are usually not “white”)? We’re doing ‘cosmetics’ in a war zone. Let’s focus on the war.

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