INCITS to Retire Potentially Racially Insensitive Standards Terms

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A key next gen tech communications standards body said it is scrubbing racially insensitive language from future standards.

The InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS), whose members include Google, Apple, Oracle and Microsoft, said that "Some of the commonly used language underpinning industry standards could be considered racially offensive," so it has to go.

"[A]ny new specifications, standards, documentation and other collateral will be developed without offensive terminology and will instead use inclusive terminology," INCITS said in a statement Friday (Sept. 11).

Among the terms being retired as part of the Principle of Inclusive Terminology are "master/slave" to describe superior and subordinate processes or devices, as well as "blacklist" for Web sites, users, applications blocked or disallowed and "whitelist" for allowed or acceptable processes or devices.

The debate over the use of those terms has been raging in the tech community has been going on for years, with opponents pointing out that the terms date back hundreds of years with origins, some say, in the early ballot boxes and balls used to cast votes, black being "no" (thus "blackballed") and "white" being "yes." But others point out that regardless of their origins, they could be misconstrued as racists and should fall into disuse, or in the case of INCITS, pushed there.

“Recognizing that language matters, the words we use to describe technology send messages that can bring people together or isolate and divide them," said Intel standards executive Phil Wennblom, chair of the INCITS working group on inclusive terminology. "The technology industry, led by INCITS, should take immediate steps to replace common and potentially offensive terms in industry standards with inclusive alternatives," he said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.