This year, there’s been a national uprising in the US on issues of social injustice towards the Black community. As a result, we have all been prompted as individuals to educate ourselves about our country’s deeply ingrained systemic racism. As a part of this educational endeavor, we decided to form ERGs (Employee Resource Groups), a collective of internal employee volunteers that meet to discuss how we approach diversity and inclusion. Based on our discussions, we’re able to take actions to change how we operate.

One of the actions that we’ve taken so far within the engineering department is highlighting instances of racially-charged technical terminology. With this information, individual teams can work to update their processes to exclude racially-charged language from their codebases and documentation. It also opens up a space for us to speak with our fellow employees about the racialized technical terminology still prominent in the tech field.

Why Deracialize Our Technical Terminology

In an effort to advocate for racial justice, it’s important to consider the impact that words have on our everyday reality. The primary philosophical concept that explains this is the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or linguistic relativity.

According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, our language shapes the way that we see the world. So when we use language that has negative racial connotation, we are continuing to build on those historical meanings, even if they are not blatantly obvious. As we shift into a more racially-conscious society, DISQO has decided to actively play a role in becoming more diverse and inclusive.

This means that sometimes we’re going to have to look at the way we’ve been doing things for a long time, and adjust according to the new information that we learn daily about the implications of using our current language.

Since we work with people across the globe and of different cultures, this change in our awareness serves to benefit our whole engineering team. The national events happening in the US do have an impact on the rest of the world, so it’s important to us to be catalysts for change.

Start with the Docs

The docs are the easiest to change because they have no direct code dependencies. So we went through all of the documentation content. This revealed to us which products were using racialized language and we were able to bring that up to the relevant parties.

For recruiting new talent, we want to make sure that when they enter the company, they see that we have made efforts (and continue to make efforts) to promote inclusion on our tech team. And oftentimes, documentation is one of the first things that individuals see upon entering the group. We want to make sure that how we talk internally, as is represented in our documentation, is how we’ll act outwardly.

The following are some of the racialized terminology that we’ve begun addressing as a company.

Racially-charged Term/Concept Alternatives
Master and Slave Primary and Replica
Blacklist and Whitelist Blocklist and Allowlist

On the Engineering Side

Because there could be code breaking changes to some of our applications from the name changes, we left it up to the teams to lead their own team’s changes.

According to Staff Software Engineer Nej Kutcharian, team Data Hawks, which works on our browser extension, addressed the clean up of racially charged language by creating a task in their backlog to identify all instances. Once all instances were identified, they began removing or editing them.

Within our extension product, we have a list of domains from which we don’t want to collect behavioral information. This was originally called “blacklist” and it has been renamed to “blocklist”. We also had a list of domains that we do want to collect behavioral data from and this was called a “whitelist”. We renamed instances of this term to “allowlist”.

We’ve also drafted up a Request for Comment (RFC) that will further open up the conversation and help us determine how to address potentially racialized language across the remainder of our codebases. Our RFC process enables all members of our engineering department to provide their views on the topic at hand, which is critical as we evolve.

Addressing racial tech terminology is a process since some of the terms are so entrenched in the way code’s been written. But as we move into a new era of social awareness, it’s important that our work reflects our values.

Falon Darville is a Senior Technical Writer at DISQO. Day-to-day, she manages, as well as our internal documentation website. Falon brings a passion for writing intermingled with a fascination for technological concepts and marries the two when she builds documentation. In her spare time, she reads, writes, and runs.

See more articles by Falon Darville.