So there's been some discussion within Red Hat about inclusive language lately, obviously related to current events and the worldwide protests against racism, especially anti-Black racism. I don't want to get into any internal details, but in one case we got into some general debate about the validity of efforts to use more inclusive language. I thought up this florid party metaphor, and I figured instead of throwing it at an internal list, I'd put it up here instead. If you have constructive thoughts on it, go ahead and mail me or start a twitter thread or something. If you have non-constructive thoughts on it, keep 'em to yourself!
Before we get into my pontificating, though, here's some useful practical resources if you just want to read up on how you can make the language in your projects and docs more inclusive:
- Google 'inclusive documentation' style guide
- A Guide to Nomenclature Selection, by Theo Schlossnagle
- Terminology, Power and Oppressive Language RFC draft by M. Knodel
To provide a bit of context: I was thinking about a suggestion that people promoting the use of more inclusive language are "trying to be offended". And here's where my mind went!
Imagine you are throwing a party. You send out the invites, order in some hors d'ouevres (did I spell that right? I never spell that right), queue up some Billie Eilish (everyone loves Billie Eilish, it's a scientific fact), set out the drinks, and wait for folks to arrive. In they all come, the room's buzzing, everyone seems to be having a good time, it's going great!
But then you notice (or maybe someone else notices, and tells you) that most of the people at your party seem to be straight white dudes and their wives and girlfriends. That's weird, you think, I'm an open minded modern guy, I'd be happy to see some Black folks and maybe a cute gay couple or something! What gives? I don't want people to think I'm some kind of racist or sexist or homophobe or something!
So you go and ask some non-white folks and some non-straight folks and some non-male folks what's going on. What is it? Is it me? What did I do wrong?
Well, they say, look, it's a hugely complex issue, I mean, we could be here all night talking about it. And yes, fine, that broken pipeline outside your house might have something to do with it (IN-JOKE ALERT). But since you ask, look, let us break this one part of it down for you.
You know how you've got a bouncer outside, and every time someone rolls up to the party he looks them up and down and says "well hi there! What's your name? Is it on the BLACKLIST or the WHITELIST?" Well...I mean...that might put some folks off a bit. And you know how you made the theme of the party "masters and slaves"? You know, that might have something to do with it too. And, yeah, you see how you sent all the invites to men and wrote "if your wife wants to come too, just put her name in your reply"? I mean, you know, that might speak to some people more than others, you hear what I'm saying?
Now...this could go one of two ways. On the Good Ending, you might say "hey, you know what? I didn't think about that. Thanks for letting me know. I guess next time I'll maybe change those things up a bit and maybe it'll help. Hey thanks! I appreciate it!"
and that would be great. But unfortunately, you might instead opt for the Bad Ending. In the Bad Ending, you say something like this:
"Wow. I mean, just wow. I feel so attacked here. It's not like I called it a 'blacklist' because I'm racist or something. I don't have a racist bone in my body, why do you have to read it that way? You know blacklist doesn't even MEAN that, right? And jeez, look, the whole 'masters and slaves' thing was just a bit of fun, it's not like we made all the Black people the slaves or something! And besides that whole thing was so long ago! And I mean look, most people are straight, right? It's just easier to go with what's accurate for most people. It's so inconvenient to have to think about EVERYBODY all the time. It's not like I'm homophobic or anything. If gay people would just write back and say 'actually I have a husband' or whatever they'd be TOTALLY welcome, I'm all cool with that. God, why do you have to be so EASILY OFFENDED? Why do you want to make me feel so guilty?"
So, I mean. Out of Bad Ending Person and Good Ending Person...whose next party do we think is gonna be more inclusive?
So obviously, in this metaphor, Party Throwing Person is Red Hat, or Google, or Microsoft, or pretty much any company that says "hey, we accept this industry has a problem with inclusion and we're trying to do better", and the party is our software and communities and events and so on. If you are looking at your communities and wondering why they seem to be pretty white and male and straight, and you ask folks for ideas on how to improve that, and they give you some ideas...just listen. And try to take them on board. You asked. They're trying to help. They are not saying you are a BAD PERSON who has done BAD THINGS and OFFENDED them and you must feel GUILTY for that. They're just trying to help you make a positive change that will help more folks feel more welcome in your communities.
You know, in a weird way, if our Party Throwing Person wasn't quite Good Ending Person or Bad Ending person but instead said "hey, you know what, I don't care about women or Black people or gays or whatever, this is a STRAIGHT WHITE GUY PARTY! WOOOOO! SOMEONE TAP THAT KEG!"...that's almost not as bad. At least you know where you stand with that. You don't feel like you're getting gaslit. You can just write that idiot and their party off and try and find another. The kind of Bad Ending Person who keeps insisting they're not racist or sexist or homophobic and they totally want more minorities to show up at their party but they just can't figure out why they all seem to be so awkward and easily offended and why they want to make poor Bad Ending Person feel so guilty...you know...that gets pretty tiring to deal with sometimes.