Why not rename master?

Categories: it

There is a current trend to rename all master branches in Git to main or something similar. I’m reluctant to follow the trend. Why?

I understand the idea behind, that it is a reminiscence to some of the master-slave relationship, and renaming master into something different is a sign of solidarity. So far so good and I could live with this.

The issue is that there are more than one meaning to the word "master". Google and the Oxford dictionary count 6 of them only for the name, with some of them having variations, amounting to roughly 20 different meanings. Of all these meanings, only one relates to a master-slave relationship, and none of the adjective or verb meanings does.

Now which of those 20 amounts is the basis for the "master" branch in Git. As the Git Book states: 'The default branch name in Git is master' and 'The “master” branch in Git is not a special branch. It is exactly like any other branch'. On this page, there are 14 matches for "master" and none for "slave", and I’ve never heard any one calling anything a "slave" branch.

But everybody talks about a "master branch" like there is a "master tape", Merriam Webster calls it 'an original from which copies can be made' (definition 5b), which is exactly the purpose of a master branch.

So, in my humble opinion, nothing in Git’s master relates to any kind of slavery, actually the branch forked from master can do whatever it wants.

You could nevertheless tell me that these are details and important is how people descendant from slaves feel about the word "master". It is of course also about the symbol of solidarity we send as development community. It is an important argument and I support the idea behind, and don’t want to hurt the feelings of people fighting for their rights. Even if, as white male of a reasonable age, I don’t really need to fight for my rights, I’m conscious that my ascendants were most probably peasant serfs so we’re all together in this, we’re all humans.

My issue with this is that those are feelings, perhaps positive feelings but still feelings, not reasonable arguments. If I push the approach to its limits: why should there be "master" as an academic title, or Tennis Masters? Racism is as well a feeling, one of bigotry, fear and hate, but still a feeling. Can we fight a bad feeling with a good feeling? Or do we risk to go into another fruitless argumentation? As explained in my German blog, I am convinced that you can only have a good discussion if you base it on facts.

I hence think that it would be more fruitful to show a good example and improve rationally the situation rather than work with symbols. A clear statement in a contribution guide that intolerance will not be tolerated is something which is difficult to argue again, and legitimates the use of sanctions against a community member who doesn’t respect this rule.

Understand me right, if one of the communities of which I’m part, would decide to rename their master branch, I wouldn’t argue against it or even moan about it, I just don’t think that it’s the right way to address racism and intolerance.