Some companies and organizations are changing industry-specific terms to be more inclusive in the wake of protests over institutional racism.
The word “master” has been scrapped from official terminology in real estate, technology, and even the world of elite wine as industry leaders have been called upon for more concerted efforts to address longstanding lingo some have criticized as racist.
The changes in standard industry language for these companies come alongside a moment of reckoning for other problematic symbols in entertainment, media, and historical artifacts.
Some companies across technology, wine, and real estate have scrubbed the word “master” from common usage in response to expanded conversations about institutional racism against Black Americans.
Last week, The Houston Chronicle reported that the Houston Association of Realtors announced it would stop using the word “master” to describe a home’s largest bedrooms or bathrooms, and instead label them “primary bedroom” and “primary bath.”
The Chronicle reported that some builders had already stopped using the term, but there’s disagreement within the industry about the term’s actual ties to racist connotations.
The real estate group was just the latest company to scrub the word “master” from usage in an effort to be more inclusive. Business Insider previously reported that GitHub, the world’s largest platform for software developers, announced it would remove the terms “master” and “slave” from denoting versions of code.
The platform’s CEO Ben Friedman said in a tweeted reply to Google Chrome developer Una Kravets on June 11 that the changes were “a great idea” and the company was “already working on this.”
A swath of technology companies were reportedly reevaluating several terms that could be deemed racially insensitive. Employees at unicorn data application startup Delphix, as Business Insider’s Rosalie Chan previously reported, held a hackathon to replace “whitelist” and “blacklist” with “allowlist” and “denylist” and replacing “he” and “him” pronouns with gender-neutral ones like “they” and “one” to introduce more inclusive terms.
A similar change was also announced in the elite wine world earlier this month, when the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, said in a statement the term “master” would no longer be used in combination with someone’s last name to denote their achieving of the organization’s prestigious rank.
The announcement came after sommelier Tahiirah Habibi posted a video on Instagram describing her experience during a certification test when an instructor directed her to use the term “master.”
“If you are in positions of power, check yourself on how you use that power and who you hurt with it,” Habibi wrote alongside the video.
Devon Broglie, the chairman of the court’s board of directors, told The New York Times that hearing about Habibi’s experience “brought so clearly and deeply into focus how hurtful our words can be, however unintentional.”
Broglie also touched on the industry’s larger issues with institutional racism and lack of diversity in an open letter, where he vowed the organization would introduce implicit bias training and expanded scholarship opportunities to support successful opportunities for the “Black community and people of color to thrive as sommeliers, winemakers, distributors, retailers, and beverage industry leaders.”
George Floyd’s death in police custody sparked weeks of protests across the US and brought a reckoning for diversity-weak industries, insensitive moments in entertainment, offensive mascots in retail and remaining symbols of slavery across the US.
The removal of “master” from certain specialties may seem abstract in comparison to changes in fictional characters, food packaging, and Confederate memorials, but other ripple effects like Merriam-Webster’s revision of its entry on racism to include systemic discrimination shows that when it comes to inclusivity, words matter.
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