Words Matter

January 09, 2022

While I was driving to make my weekly grocery run today, I caught a few minutes of a program on NPR interviewing Nikole Hannah-Jones about The 1619 Project.

A few bits of the interview stuck with me:

“Language is important […] because it can either clarify or obscure. It can either justify or explicate.”

“We’re not going to use the euphemism of a plantation.”

Surrounded by Euphemisms

I live in a part of the United States where I am geographically surrounded by the remnants of plantations. Here in Georgia, many buildings that were part of the institution of slavery have been converted to historical sites. Some of them have been converted to event spaces or wedding venues. There are also modern parks, businesses, strip malls, condos, apartment buildings, and neighborhood streets with the word “plantation” casually included in the name.

When I was a kid, when we went to Six Flags Over Georgia we could take a boat ride through a building of dancing animatronic monsters called “Monster Plantation.” It’s since been re-named the “Monster Mansion.”

There is an operating Gone With the Wind Museum less than 2 miles from my house.

During the interview with NPR, Nikole Hannah-Jones explains that she wants to jar people to realize the “plantation” was not what we see in Gone With the Wind but rather “everything else off camera you would never see.”

She also explains the intentionality of her word choices and how she deliberately uses the term “slave labor camp” instead of “plantation.”

In my imagination, I started to swap out the term “labor camp” for all of the common ways I see “plantation” used in my community.

Labor Camp Drive

Labor Camp Estates

Labor Camp Realty & Management, Inc.

Forced Labor Camp Shopping Center

Monster Slave Labor Camp Boat Ride — featuring more than 100 monstrous characters!

Big yikes.

It is jarring! As it should be. These words are part of a horrible history that continues to have a harmful impact to this day.

We should shudder and pause and consider what it would take to remove these words from our environment.

Which brings me to…my development environment!

Switching Master to Main

As I’ve been jumping back into blogging and challenging myself to use Git every day, it was not lost on me that my own default branch was still stuck on master.

I had been putting off fixing this problem because I thought it would be complicated and require a bunch of difficult configuration changes.

Nope! It was SO easy.

When I Googled how to sort this out, I landed on Scott Hanselman’s post about this topic.

I followed Scott’s lead here…

git branch -m master main

Then, I went ahead and pushed it upstream.

git push -u origin main

This made me nervous that maybe I’d broken something over in GitHub, so I went over there to check things out. Nothing seemed to be broken, but it did look like I had created a new branch called main and it wasn’t set as my default just yet.

I knew I wanted to set my default branch to ‘main’ instead of ‘master’ but the way that GitHub lets you do that is by re-naming the default branch. Because I had just created a new branch called ‘main,’ the name ‘main’ was already taken and I ran into an error.

To get around this, I deleted ‘main’ from GitHub and then tried again to re-name ‘master’ to ‘main.’

Renaming master to main in GitHub

That seemed to work…but not right away. I got a little message toast reading “Branch master will be renamed to main shortly.”

Toast message from GitHub showing Branch name will be changed shortly

How shortly?

I closed my laptop, made myself a plate of food (sheetpan chicken thighs with roasted grapes and fennel—delicious!), sat down to eat dinner with Alan, opened my laptop, and it was done!

Now, I had a feeling maybe I’d need to make the same change over in Netlify.

So, I logged in and headed to my build settings under Site Settings > Build & Deploy.

In Netlify, I swapped out my Production branch from ‘master’ to ‘main’ and Netlify automatically added ‘master’ as an additional branch. The Netlify UI wouldn’t let me delete this completely. It seemed like it was holding onto an artifact leftover from the branch that used to exist. A remnant, if you will.

Changing master to main in Netlify

But, it was really bugging me. So, I tried swapping the setting to Branch deploys: None > Save and this seemed to clear out the tag for the old, deleted ‘master’ branch.

Branch deploys set to none

After saving that setting, now, even if I want to toggle back to “Let me add additional branches” the old ‘master’ branch has disappeared.

Branch deploys set to additional brances

At this point, everything seems to be good to go!

I can checkout my new main, create a branch for my blog post, and keep going about my business.

Living in the South, the legacy of slavery is something I must recognize and reckon with constantly. It’s heavy and complicated and deeply woven into my life.

I’m relieved this one little change means I won’t also have to confront it on my command line.