-10
\$\begingroup\$

The terms "master" and "slave" have been widely used within electronics, but we need to recognise that these terms are racially charged. There are plenty of alternative words that can be used, and thus avoid unnecessary references to slavery. For example, the term "master" can become "controller" or "host", and "slave" can become "client" or "peripheral".

I have recently made a few edits replacing instances of these words with alternatives. These have been rejected. The only comment I receive from these rejections is that "The edit does not improve the quality of the post. Changes to the content are unnecessary or make the post more confusing." There doesn't seem to be a mechanism for responding to a rejection itself, so I think the only avenue I have is to ask about it here.

The code of conduct for this StackExchange community reads:

No bigotry. We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion — and those are just a few examples. Use stated pronouns (when known). When in doubt, don't use language that might offend or alienate.

The terms that these edits are replacing clearly fall within the category of language that is "likely to offend or alienate people based on race". Why are these edits being refused?

Is the Electronics StackExchange community going to acknowledge that these terms need to be replaced so that it can take a step towards inclusivity?

\$\endgroup\$
2
  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ Without getting into the merits of your statements (I am making these changes in my own writing) you might consider that there is not universal consensus within the United States, much less internationally, that these words are inherently offensive. As best I can tell, this issue is still debated and it's not clear what the most appropriate replacement language might be in all cases. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 28 at 18:21
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your input @ElliotAlderson We know that these terms are hurtful to a number of users on this site: it's not a question of how many exactly. We have the choice between offending and excluding those people, or not. There are plenty of non-offensive options to use instead of these terms, and it's pretty easy to switch. There can even be questions on stack exchange like "What is an inoffensive term for an X?" that provide those who are confused by such new terminology with the answers they need -- and those answers can be couched in an explanation of why those terms are offensive. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob Gilton
    Apr 28 at 19:07
16
\$\begingroup\$

"we need to recognise that these terms are racially charged", "likely to offend or alienate people based on race".

Perhaps in a small part of the world, and only if you anthropomorphize your disk drive controller. If you think a "slave" is only of a certain race, it tells more about your inclusivity.

Since it makes perfect sense for a machine to have a master, and for one machine to treat another as a slave that does its bidding, there is little to be upset about.

\$\endgroup\$
6
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ There may be little to be upset about for you, but this is not the case for a large number of people. You don't need to use upsetting, offensive or traumatic terminology when designing your disk drive controller! \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob Gilton
    Apr 28 at 19:01
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ @RobGilton "master" and "slave" can of course alienate people when these terms are applied to people. I don't see why anyone should even care when they are applied to things. There will be very little words left to use if you remove all terms that might, when used in a totally different context, be offending to someone. BTW the "large number of people" assertion needs to be elaborated: as far as I know, this kind of consideration comes from people of a single country... And I'm offended that this country imposes its views and its specific problematics down the throat of everyone else. \$\endgroup\$
    – dim
    Apr 29 at 10:08
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ HI @dim. You can see the parts of the planet that have been affected here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery Regarding why people should care when these terms are used: If there was a term that triggered traumatic experiences in yourself, would you choose to use it in your designs? Would you want others to use it in materials to which you refer (e.g. StackExchange)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob Gilton
    Apr 29 at 10:12
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ @Rob I was talking about the parts of the planet that try hard to find offensive things when there isn't anything intentionally offensive. I wasn't talking about the parts of the planet where there has been some slavery happening. I'm French. There has been slavery happening there, but we don't react the same at all here. Regarding the terms that may trigger traumatic experience in myself: I think I might get away with it, because I know how to draw the line between what is said with bad intentions, and what is said from a totally different context. \$\endgroup\$
    – dim
    Apr 29 at 10:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @dim So being a part of this community means complying with the code of conduct. It sounds like you accept that there are people who will find these terms offensive and/or alienating. That's all we need to know in order to make a decision about this! \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob Gilton
    Apr 29 at 10:31
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ @RobGilton But slavery isn't the issue. Every civilization had slaves, I doubt you will find many exceptions. My ancestors took Brits as slaves. Black people have taken slaves for thousands of years - yet you make this into a racial oppression term based on one country, letting it set the agenda and represent the whole history of civilization. \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    Apr 29 at 11:29
9
\$\begingroup\$

Since I was a rejecter on the linked question, and Rob was looking for some feedback, here's my reasoning.

I think that Rob should have left a comment, and left it to the original author to consider that point of view. It's a random person on the internet who you'll never meet, so assume good intentions as a starting point for conversation.

The post in question is from 2019 and not by Rob. I don't support going back and altering other peoples' responses from the past based on what is currently considered acceptable. It is not up to us, now, to decide that what someone wrote some time ago could be considered offensive to some people and should be changed unilaterally. If the original author would like to change it, then it is up to them if they feel it is appropriate in the context of the what they've written.

As Scott mentioned in his answer, there is also the fact the datasheets, assumed knowledge etc, do rely on the phrases that were edited out so the edits do not make an improvement to the originals. If a new specification comes out that uses a different terminology than master/slave then it would be wrong to use those - the question/answer should use the specification's terminology.

Especially in cases where master/slave doesn't actually really capture the relationship properly and is just a lazy reuse, then it's a good thing. Changing how we describe things now is very easy to do, and if that helps everyone engage, then all the better. I guarantee if you start writing your codebase using host/client no one will bat an eyelid, and eventually it will just become the standard practice.

I agree with Scott that things evolve, and if you want to be involved in this then his answer has the details. Do bear in mind that the "community" you refer isn't homogenous: plenty of people do not find this language offensive, plenty of people simply do not care, and plenty of people do find it offensive. Balance has to be found and I believe (as I mentioned) that assuming good intent first of all produces better results for all parties. Declaring your view the One True Way puts people on the defensive straight away, and that is not a productive place to start a discussion from.

NB: I don't know why people downvoted this question on Meta, it's a very valid question and if people are having problems with the site then they should raise them and find out why. +1 from me.

Hope that helps :)

\$\endgroup\$
2
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure host/client would be a good alternative since is doesn't reflect the relationship between the devices. Generally clients request something from a host and the host sends it to them. It's more like a company and customer than a master and servant (my preferred alternative). \$\endgroup\$ May 14 at 13:19
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Crazymoomin - sure, whatever fits the situation best. It was just meant to be an example :) \$\endgroup\$
    – awjlogan
    May 14 at 13:38
7
\$\begingroup\$

This is an issue, certainly, but it must be weighed against clarity and the potential to generate errors. There are decades of data sheets, textbooks, and engineers trained in a certain way. All of these things need to remain understandable, and systems need to remain error-free. This may seem ludicrous to you, but we've had a spacecraft crash because of failures in metric/english system conversions.

What you're suggesting is that we adopt a new standard of terminology. Perhaps Master/Slave terminology isn't an official standard, but I'll hold that it's a de facto standard.

When one doesn't like a standard, they can certainly throw it out and choose their own. It's an old joke that "the nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from"! Well, unless we all land in the same place, that will lead to confusion, which can lead to errors, which can lead to product recalls, computers failing, planes falling out of the sky, .... You really won't get much support for precipitous change when dealing with engineers. Engineering errors kill people.

Engineers just don't "do" things because we want to. We put effort into developing, accepting, and distributing standards. We look at all of our options, the pluses, minuses, and ramifications of each, and we make a careful decision. This is what needs to happen here. It needs to go to our professional societies and standards organizations, who will certainly examine the ramifications of a terminology change, and probably come up with a best practice for avoiding errors.

My recommendation would be to keep fighting the fight. Join and write editorials to the professional societies, join standards organizations, vote with your wallet and buy new chipsets from companies that use terminology you prefer. Communicate in discussion groups like you're doing here.

Perhaps, when the profession approaches consensus, the edits you suggest may happen. If you want to keep making edits, and getting them rejected, as part of your social approach, do so, though there may be SE ramifications for numerous turned down edits. Personally, I think such edits hurt clarity, so if you really want to do this, I suggest strikethrough to promote clarity, but you may still get rejected edits

\$\endgroup\$
7
\$\begingroup\$

I just did a search on the word "slave" at EESE. There are many, many posts that use master/slave terminology in the context of SPI and I2C bus communications. It is not at all clear to me that it will be beneficial to go back and change all those terms. For one thing, the terminology is baked into many datasheets and standards documents. The SS pin on SPI devices is an abbreviation of "slave select." Some I2C host controllers support "multi-master" mode. So that is the simple utility argument. If we purge all those terms, some people when searching will not find what they are looking for.

And, quite frankly, I think it is very possible that people who are offended by the terminology may simply be mistaken. I rarely say that. If you are offended you are offended. It is not for someone else to say that you are not offended. But this may be a case where any offense taken is simply due to being misinformed about the meaning of the words.

If you search with a search engine on the terms "slave select" or "I2C bus master" you will find so many hits in technical literature that you will quickly realize the futility and in-utility and counter-productivity of changing it all. So that is another argument. It is just so much non-productive work to fix it.

\$\endgroup\$
1
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's also simply descriptive - the master tells the slave what to do, and the slave does it. Obviously, it's a problem when humans treat each other like that, but for inanimate objects, it's fine. \$\endgroup\$
    – user253751
    Jul 19 at 17:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .