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Blacklisting is the action of a group or authority compiling a blacklist of people, countries or other entities to be avoided or distrusted as being deemed unacceptable to those making the list; if people are on a blacklist, then they are considered to have done something wrong, or they are considered to be untrustworthy. As a verb, blacklist can mean to put an individual or entity on such a list.[1] A blacklist is synonymous with a list of banned persons or organisations, and is the opposite of a whitelist.

Origins of the term[edit]

The English dramatist Philip Massinger used the phrase "black list" in his 1639 tragedy The Unnatural Combat.[2]

After the restoration of the English monarchy brought Charles II of England to the throne in 1660, a list of regicides named those to be punished for the execution of his father.[3] The state papers of Charles II say "If any innocent soul be found in this black list, let him not be offended at me, but consider whether some mistaken principle or interest may not have misled him to vote".[4] In a 1676 history of the events leading up to the Restoration, James Heath (a supporter of Charles II) alleged that Parliament had passed an Act requiring the sale of estates, "And into this black list the Earl of Derby was now put, and other unfortunate Royalists".[5]

Edward Gibbon wrote in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776) of Andronicus that "His memory was stored with a black list of the enemies and rivals, who had traduced his merit, opposed his greatness, or insulted his misfortunes".[6]



The first published reference to blacklisting of an employee dates from 1774. This became a significant employment issue in American mining towns and company towns, where blacklisting could mean a complete loss of livelihood for workers who went on strike.[7] The 1901 Report of the Industrial Commission stated "There was no doubt in the minds of workingmen of the existence of the blacklisting system, though it was practically impossible to obtain evidence of it." It cited a news report that in 1895 a former conductor on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad committed suicide, having been out of work ever since a strike: "Wherever he went, the blacklist was ahead of him".[8]

Though the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 outlawed punitive blacklists against employees who supported trade unions or criticised their employers, the practice continued in common use. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 made amendments which sustained blacklisting by affirming the right of employers to be anti-union, and by requiring trade union leaders to make loyalty oaths which had the same effect as the Hollywood blacklist. Since then, lawsuits for unfair dismissal have led to blacklisting being covert or informal, but it remains common.[7]

Hollywood blacklist[edit]

The Hollywood blacklist was instituted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 to block screenwriters and other Hollywood professionals who were purported to have Communist sympathies from obtaining employment. It started by listing 151 entertainment industry professionals and lasted until 1960 when it was effectively broken by the acknowledgement that blacklisted professionals had been working under assumed names for many years.[9][10]

Spanish Civil War and communists blacklisted[edit]

At least one volunteer (George Drever) in the International Brigades who went to Spain to fight Franco's fascists and who was also well known in the British Communist Party in the 1930s was informed by the police Special Branch that his failure to progress in military or career was due to his volunteering in this cause and his beliefs.[11]

World Wars I and II[edit]

During World War I, the British government adopted a "blacklist" based on an Order in Council of 23 December 1915, prohibiting British subjects from trade with specified firms and individuals in neutral countries; the lists were published in the London Gazette.[12]

In the summer of 1940, the SS printed a secret list[of what?] called Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. ("Special Search List Great Britain") as part of Nazi Germany's preparations for invasion code-named Operation Sea Lion – when this booklet was found after the war, it was commonly called the Black Book and described as a blacklist.[13]

Medical context[edit]

In 1907, the Transvaal Medical Union in South Africa blacklisted patients if they could not pay cash in advance.[14] There was a physical list kept by the community of physicians.

2004 Venezuelan recall referendum[edit]

After the 2004 Venezuelan recall referendum, ruling party deputy Luis Tascón published on his website a database of more than 2,400,000 Venezuelans who had signed the petition to recall President Hugo Chávez, together with their national identity card numbers (cédula).[15][16] The list "made "sectarianism official", and Venezuelans who signed against Chávez were denied jobs, benefits, and documents, and often subjected to harassment.[17] Once the list was posted, Chávez, on a Venezolana de Televisión broadcast, encouraged use of the website to "verify illicit use of national identity cards". Roger Capella, Minister of Health declared that "those who signed against President Chávez would be fired because they are committing an act of terrorism".[18] There was a public outcry, in particular by the organization Súmate, and because of reports that people who worked for the government were fired, denied work, or denied issuance of official documents because of their appearance on the list.[19][20] In July 2004, access to the database under management of Comando Maisanta was granted to members of the "Batallones Bolivarianos de Internet (BBI)" (Internet Bolivarian Battalions), which previously had to register on Tascón's website to gain access under the strict requisite that they had not signed the petition for the referendum.[21]


Blacklisting in online chat (IRC)

In computing, a blacklist is an access control system that denies entry to a specific list (or a defined range) of users, programs, or network addresses.

Terminology concerns[edit]

In 2018, a medical journal commentary regarding predatory publishing[22] was published, arguing that whitelist, blacklist, among other terms, reinforce existing racial biases and should be avoided in medical literature. The commentary gained public attention in Summer 2020 following the George Floyd protests in the United States[23] wherein a black man died in the custody of Minneapolis police officers, sparking protests against police brutality.

The commentary cites examples of the use of black as a shorthand for disreputable sources and other negative judgements, and white for trustworthiness and safety. The article also notes the origins of blacklist as a label for censure and punishment of workers involved in labor unions, and that early use of the term coincides with the rise of slavery in the Americas, but does not claim its etymology as referring directly to skin color. However, the authors criticize the continued use of blacklist and similar language as inappropriate and harmful due to the ubiquity of white and black as descriptors of racial groups in common parlance, arguing that this association results in use of this type of language perpetuates racism, regardless of its linguistic origin.[22]

Conflict around this issue often emerges in computing industries where whitelist and blacklist are prevalent (e.g. "IP whitelisting"[24]). Some companies, open-source communities, and software developers have chosen to deprecate use of whitelist and blacklist in favor of names which describe the purpose of those lists less ambiguously and are unlikely to come across to a reader as insensitive such as allow list and deny list. An IETF draft technical proposal[25] has been underway since 2018 presenting arguments for avoiding potentially exclusionary language in technical documentation and a standardized set of recommendations for their replacement. Before garnering wider public attention in 2020, similarly motivated changes have also been enacted in years prior to replace terminology such as master/slave with alternatives due to concerns over their potential role in workplace discrimination.[26]

Some critics of these terminology changes[who?] question the interpretation of the deprecated language as racial in nature due to the linguistic root of blacklist as being most likely derived from the term black book,[26][27] which originated in the 1400s as a reference to "a list of people who had committed crimes or fallen out of favor with leaders," popularized by King Henry VIII's literal use of a black book.[28] Others note the prevalence of positive and negative connotations to white and black in some Bible translations into English, taking the position that this historical usage invalidates the claim of racial connotations in modern usage[29] because it predates the emergence of "Black" as a widespread word to refer to one's race as a person of color in America during the 1960s Black power movement.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Blacklist definition and meaning". Collins English Dictionary. 7 March 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  2. ^ Peter Chadlington (2005). The Real McCoy: Understanding Peculiar English. Icon. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-84046-684-3.
    Philip Massinger (1761). Dramatic Works: A new way to pay old debts. The great Duke of Florence. The unnatural combat. The bashful lover. T. Davies. p. 194. Might write me down in the black List of those That have nor Fire, nor Spirit of their own
  3. ^ Paul McFedries (August 5, 2008). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weird Word Origins. DK Publishing. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-101-21718-4.
  4. ^ Great Britain. Public Record Office (1968). Calendar of state papers, domestic series, of the reign of Charles II: preserved in the state paper department of Her Majesty's Public Record Office. Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts.
  5. ^ James Heath; John Phillips (1676). A Chronicle of the Late Intestine War in the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland: With the Intervening Affairs of Treaties, and Other Occurrences Relating Thereunto. As Also the Several Usurpations, Forreign Wars, Differences and Interests Depending Upon It, to the Happy Restitution of Our Sacred Soveraign K. Charles II. In Four Parts, Viz. The Commons War, Democracie, Protectorate, Restitution. J. C.
  6. ^ Gibbon, Edward; Milman, Henry Hart (2008-06-07). Widger, David (ed.). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireTable of Contents with links in the HTML file to the two Project Gutenberg editions (12 volumes). Vol. VIII.
  7. ^ a b Robert E. Weir (2013). Workers in America: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 71–72. ISBN 978-1-59884-718-5.
  8. ^ United States Industrial Commission; Balthasar Henry Meyer; Roswell Cheney McCrea (1901). Report of the Industrial Commission on Transportation, including testimony, review and topical digest of evidence, and special reports on railway legislation. U.S. Government Printing Office.
  9. ^ Wilkerson, William (1946-07-29). "A Vote For Joe Stalin". The Hollywood Reporter. p. 1.
  10. ^ Baum, Gary; Daniel Miller (November 19, 2012). "Blacklist: THR Addresses Role After 65 Years". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  11. ^ Gray, Daniel (2013). Homage to Caledonia: Scotland and the Spanish Civil War ([International version] ed.). New York: Luath Press Ltd. pp.68, 267.
  12. ^ The Encyclopedia Americana (1920), Blacklist
  13. ^ Philip Gooden; Peter Lewis (September 25, 2014). The Word at War: World War Two in 100 Phrases. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-4729-0490-4.
  14. ^ Deacon, Harriet; Phillips, Howard; van Heyningen, Elizabeth, eds. (2004). The Cape Doctor in the Nineteenth Century: A Social History (Clio Medica, 74). Editions Rodipi B.V. ISBN 9042010649.
  15. ^ "Tascón: Comenzó fotocopiado de planillas de la oposición", El Universal, 2004
  16. ^ El Universal, 21 April 2005, Tascón: Alto jefe de Súmate vendió la lista por miles de dólares
  17. ^ Carroll, Rory (2013). Comandante : myth and reality in Hugo Chávez's Venezuela. Penguin Press: New York. pp. 100–104. ISBN 9781594204579.
  18. ^ El Universal, 21 March 2004, (in Spanish) "Firmar contra Chávez es un acto de terrorismo"
  19. ^ Chavez's Blacklist of Venezuelan Opposition Intimidates Voters
  20. ^ Malinarich, Nathalie (27 November 2006). "Venezuela: A nation divided". BBC News. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
  21. ^ Morales Flores, Miyeilis (2004), "Diputado Tascón inició registro de Batallones Bolivarianos por Internet", Gobierno Bolivariano de Venezuela-Radio Nacional de Venezuela, archived from the original on 30 September 2007
  22. ^ a b Houghton, F., & Houghton, S. (2018). "“Blacklists” and “whitelists”: a salutary warning concerning the prevalence of racist language in discussions of predatory publishing."
  23. ^ Taylor, Derrick Bryson (2020-07-10). "George Floyd Protests: A Timeline". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  24. ^ "IP Whitelisting - Documentation". Archived from the original on 2020-09-30. Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  25. ^ Knodel, Mallory. "Terminology, Power, and Inclusive Language in Internet-Drafts and RFCs". Ietf Datatracker. Internet Engineering Task Force. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  26. ^ a b Cimpanu, Catalin. "GitHub to replace "master" with alternative term to avoid slavery references". ZDNet. Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  27. ^ "blacklist | Origin and meaning of blacklist by Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  28. ^ "What is Little Black Book?". Writing Explained. Retrieved 2020-10-17.
  29. ^ Grammarian, Angry (22 July 2020). "Is 'master bedroom' a racist term? As language evolves, consider history and usage. | The Angry Grammarian". Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  30. ^ Martin, Ben L. (1991). "From Negro to Black to African American: The Power of Names and Naming". Political Science Quarterly. 106 (1): 83–107. doi:10.2307/2152175. ISSN 0032-3195. JSTOR 2152175.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lorence, James J. (1999). The Suppression of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America. University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-2027-9.