Over the past few years I’ve learned some new forms of racism. Just when I was getting my head around the term implicit racism, here comes systemic racism. The older I get the more I’m convinced  another form of racism will be made popular as we try to define what racism is and how to deal with it.

I’d like to take you back to 1978 when I discovered scientific racism in a Villanova University classroom.

It was my freshman year and I came into class underprepared, overwhelmed, out of place, and damn near scared to death as I tried to make believe I belonged in this engineering class. It was an electronics class where we were learning how to design integrated circuits that go into computers. I was struggling to follow along having never heard any of the language the professor was speaking and had never seen any of the squiggly lines he was writing on the board. 

He drew a sinusoidal wave form on the board and then another inverted wave form below the first one. And then he said this…

“Here is an example of a master/slave relationship.”

It took every thing I could muster for my 17-year-old self to not lose it at that moment. I looked around the room expecting all the white guys to be looking at me but they were busy taking notes. I thought the professor would realize he slipped up and offer an awkward apology to me. Nope. He just kept on talking about these master/slave relationships. He can’t be serious! I don’t think I heard another word the rest of the class. 

That night I was reading the text book and sho’ nuf, master/slave relationships had a whole damn chapter. 

I knew then there was no one to talk to about this. Was it really accepted electronic jargon to call something master/slave in 1978? I wondered if that’s how they taught electronics in engineering school at Howard University as I tried to find another excuse to transfer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to talk to at Howard either. I never got used to that term. 

I forget what triggered me remembering master/slave relationships today, but it had something to do with hearing about another company participating in this new cancelation culture to look like they are into Black Lives Matter. Something made me do a little research to see if the electronics geeks still use the term ‘master/slave relationship.’

It took all of 1.3 seconds for Google and Wikipedia to answer with this definition…

Master/slave is a model of asymmetric communication or control where one device or process controls one or more other devices or processes and serves as their communication hub. In some systems a master is selected from a group of eligible devices, with the other devices acting in the role of slaves. Historically, the master/slave terminology has existed for many decades, and is currently deeply entrenched into the internet, as well as printed books, magazines, manuals, datasheets, and more.

To my surprise, Wikipedia also included a section on Terminology Concerns…

In 2003, the County of Los Angeles in California asked that manufacturers, suppliers and contractors stop using “master” and “slave” terminology on products; the county made this request “based on the cultural diversity and sensitivity of Los Angeles County”. Following outcries about the request, the County of Los Angeles issued a statement saying that the decision was “nothing more than a request”.

Global Language Monitor found the term “master/slave” to be the most egregious example of political incorrectness in 2004, and named it the most politically incorrect term of that year; “This is but one more example of the insertion of politics into every facet of modern life, down to the level of the control processes of computer technology.”

In December 2017, the Internet Systems Consortium decided to allow the words “primary” and “secondary” as a substitute for master/slave terminology in their DNS server software BIND.

There you have it. It didn’t take 42 years to address this term since I first heard it. It only took 39 years. 

That’s progress.