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In June, I committed to holding the space to listen, learn and have important conversations about the systemic injustices and racism that exist in our society. As part of that work, Red Hat announced our intention to remove harmful language from our code and documentation. While that marked the beginning of a focused effort, Red Hatters have been laying the groundwork for several years. A grassroots team had been working on developing guidelines about using language consciously and inclusively for some time. In June, we started working with that group to catalyze the conscious language guidelines into an action plan for change. We expected this would be a significant amount of work, and a long term effort to effect real change, so we thought it would be useful to share a progress update.

Our work so far has centered around three key areas:

  • Understanding and exposing the depth and scope of the problem in our code, documentation, and web properties

  • Determining which words to focus on in the short term and creating guidance on how to replace those words

  • Outreach to upstream communities and internal teams to increase awareness and motivate action

We knew from the beginning that this would be a complicated endeavor. On a technical level, change has to be made in hundreds of discrete communities, representing thousands of different projects across as many code repositories. Care has to be taken to prevent application or API breakage, maintain backward compatibility, and communicate the changes to users and customers. 

As big of a lift as that is, the technical change is only part of the challenge. We all come to this work with a different perspective, a different cultural grounding, and different levels of understanding of how certain words can impact others. Our hope is to start the discussion, provide context and answer questions, and inspire change across the open source ecosystem. This change supports improving the diversity of participation within open source communities and to strengthen the inclusion of new community members to increase sustainability.

To shine a light on the issue, we have created a publicly visible dashboard that captures instances of the terms we are targeting across all upstream code repositories that feed into Red Hat products, provides links to the repositories, and shows changes in word counts over time. This dashboard is helping us prioritize community outreach and internal work needed to make progress.

The tooling behind this dashboard is, itself, open source, and available on GitHub.

We have also published guidelines and an FAQ to help upstream communities and downstream teams understand how we approach this work. We are collaborating with other technology companies through the Linux Foundation on the Inclusive Naming Initiative to create a resource for communities and companies to adopt this work. These documents can be used to build awareness, remove obstacles, and motivate action towards our common goal of making the language of our software more inclusive. The guidelines do include terms targeted for removal as well as suggested replacements, though each project can evaluate and discuss the best way to approach this work for their community.

The following communities are just a few examples that have committed to starting the change process. Some of these efforts were started before Red Hat launched this company-wide effort, and some have begun as a result of this recent work. We’re working with several dozen other smaller projects on their evaluation and remediation processes.

We encourage all open source community members to use the resources published through the collaborative Inclusive Naming Initiative, led by the Linux Foundation, to bring the discussion to communities you are active in. Any community repositories can be added to the tracking dashboard or you can use the source code to make your own instance of the dashboard.

About the author

Chris Wright is senior vice president and chief technology officer (CTO) at Red Hat. Wright leads the Office of the CTO, which is responsible for incubating emerging technologies and developing forward-looking perspectives on innovations such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, distributed storage, software defined networking and network functions virtualization, containers, automation and continuous delivery, and distributed ledger.

During his more than 20 years as a software engineer, Wright has worked in the telecommunications industry on high availability and distributed systems, and in the Linux industry on security, virtualization, and networking. He has been a Linux developer for more than 15 years, most of that time spent working deep in the Linux kernel. He is passionate about open source software serving as the foundation for next generation IT systems.

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