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Avoid—racist term

blacklist whitelist


noun; verb

We would recommend adding a content warning when speaking about this term. Please read the guidance on how and when to warn people before using this term in any context.

colloquially: umbrella term used to represent a list of entities/people who are to be allowed or denied access to a service, privilege, or recognition: to "blacklist" is "to exclude", to "whitelist" means "to include;" carries anti-Black sentiments


The first problem is the admittance and denial of people based on their race or skin color. Using "black" and "white" to determine whether an entity is excluded or included, respectively, from a group supports the systemic racism that denies Black people entry while allowing white people entry. Similarly to the concept of master/slave, blacklist/whitelist is used abundantly and casually in the realm of software development, which can reinforce the systemic exclusion of Black people from the industry.

The second issue with these terms is the implication that black is bad and white is good. A "blacklist" often refers to a list of undesirable things (spammy phone numbers, undesired guests, etc.) whereas a "whitelist" refers to a list of virtuous things (important guests, emails we want to receive, etc.) In 1610, when the enslavement and deportation of Africans by Europeans was in full effect, the Douglas Harper Etymology Dictionary defined the term "blacklist" as a "list of persons who have incurred suspicion".

While the origins predate the transatlantic slave trade, the concept of a blacklist as eliciting "suspicion" reinforces the systemic racism that causes disproportionately higher incarceration and incrimination of Black people for equivalent crimes to non-Black people.

From this NCBI article:

"To compound the issue, it is also striking how often the term “whitelist” is used for a supposedly good, respectable, or safe list of publishers. The racism in such “black is bad, white is good” metaphors is inappropriate and needs to cease."

These terms not only reflect, but they also reinforce and perpetuate a racist culture.

Usage Tip

Be more specific: not only are "blacklist/whitelist" racist, they tend to be jargony and their meaning changes depending on the context.

Even if you may not be negatively impacted by this terminology, it can negatively impact other existing and prospective contributors onto your project and spaces. The terminology isn't so unique that it's irreplaceable; the lift tends to be trivial in comparison to the potential impact.

Alt Words

  • blacklist (noun)
    • blocklist
    • denylist
    • excludelist
  • whitelist (noun)
    • allowlist
    • passlist
    • trustlist
    • safelist
  • to blacklist (verb)
    • to block
    • to deny
    • to exclude
  • to whitelist (verb)
    • to allow
    • to trust
    • to include

Further Reading

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