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In short, my company is developing a management tool for managing SIM cards. One of the features of the tool is to block the SIM card if it's put into a none allowed device by device IMEI validation.

The feature for this was mocked up using the terms Blacklist and Whitelist. However, after a while someone raised the point that these terms could feel a bit controversial.

The advantage of using these terms is that they are clean and easily understandable, but then again if they could invoke any racial issues we don't want anything to do with them.

So far we've come up with these possible alternatives:

  • Blocked List
  • Unblocked List
  • Allowed List

And honestly we're not overexcited for any of these words... =\

My question here is if you guys first and foremost also sense these terms as being slightly controversial and also if you have any ideas for terms to use instead?

EDIT: This question has been posted on English StackExchange for anyone who is curious.

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  • 5
    You may have better luck at english.stackexchange.com Dec 8 '11 at 16:12
  • It would be correct to say that a phone could be on a blacklist but not the SIM card. Are you using the word to describe list of phones that are outside the "allowed" list of devices? Or are you describing the SIM card being blocked because it someone tried to use it with a phone that was not allowed? Dec 8 '11 at 16:14
  • 14
    The words don't have origin in racial terms (as English.SE will tell you), and they are extremely common and well understood terms. Changing the wording may placate the 1% of users who incorrectly find these terms "offensive" and risk confusing a large % of users who find the other terms unintuitive or inaccurate.
    – Ben Brocka
    Dec 8 '11 at 16:27
  • 1
    @BenBrocka I know, that's a very good point. Dec 8 '11 at 16:40
  • 1
    FWIW, Microsoft style has for some time recommended avoiding the term. docs.microsoft.com/en-us/style-guide/… Feb 27 '18 at 23:19

12 Answers 12

23

There is no evidence that I have seen that deems the term 'Blacklist' to be offensive; in fact it is valid computer terminology. Being blacklisted is a negative term, but that is the point of the word: Black and White are contrasting.

If you need other terms then it's easy to go with 'Blocked List' but then you're left with the opposing side being an 'allowed-list' which isn't as cognitively associated with 'Blocked' as 'Black' is with 'White'.

There are no racist connotations here unless you are wanting to find one; just as there is no racist connotations to being 'Blackballed', or having a 'Black book'.

For some extra reference: Black and White are also used in a software testing capacity - black-box testing and white-box testing and these are perfectly acceptable and non-offensive terms.

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    While I agree with your points; I would be interested to hear from the english.stackexchange.com folks on the history of the words and how they came about. Dec 8 '11 at 16:23
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    The history of blacklist is well understood and the oxford English dictionary and Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blacklist#History) show no history of racial connotations in the actual history of the word. If someone is telling you the terms are racist, strike them over the head with a hardcover copy of the OED.
    – Ben Brocka
    Dec 8 '11 at 16:30
  • 2
    @ChrisF Whereas someone who makes it into a 'Black Book' means they have been chosen for something quite the opposite of unpleasant! ;)
    – JonW
    Dec 8 '11 at 16:39
  • 2
    Another consideration with blacklist vs whitelist is that, in my experience anyways, the two terms are not often applied simultaneously - you generally use one or the other. For instance, content filtering systems often work by either blacklisting "bad" sites/keywords (removing the bad but allowing all others, generally a less restrictive effect) or by whitelisting "good" sites/keywords (blocking all others, generally a more restrictive effect). Dec 8 '11 at 20:35
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    Just because there is no racism in the etymology of blacklist/whitelist does not mean no racist connotations could exist with the concept of black=bad and white = good. Inclusive language is a huge part of UX and as UXers our role in not to argue that a user is doing or understanding something wrong but to recommend adjusting systems in whatever way we can to improve that experience.
    – It's Dylan
    Jun 12 '20 at 15:51
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Semantic alternatives to whitelist/blacklist:

  • greenlist/redlist (ablist; will also be obsolete with traffic lights in 50-100 years)
  • passlist/faillist ("ill" is hard to read)
  • grantlist/blocklist (four consonents per vowel, a bit chewy)
  • goodlist/badlist (almost too trite)
  • oks/noks (I like this one)
  • letlist/banlist (i like banlist, but can't find a short prefix that opposes it; "letlist" is a bit twisty)
  • prolist/conlist (i like the morphology, but it may have classist overtones)
  • haraplist/ikatlist (this would be a joke in year-2020 Malaysia)
  • rightlist/wronglist (too easily confused with leftlist)
  • allows/denies (IP-tables inspired)
  • blocklist/safelist (via Twitter@adelin)
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    I like your idea with greenlist/redlist, but color-blind people probably won't. Jun 9 '20 at 9:30
  • 1
    @SergeyKirienko adjusted :)
    – jerng
    Jun 12 '20 at 14:12
  • 3
    Redlist could also be considered offensive by socialists. Jul 12 '20 at 14:48
  • 2
    @ThomasAhle Not in context it couldn't; there's not the same systemic bias against political leanings as there is skin colour. Let's not belittle the issue with strawmen. Jul 23 '20 at 18:10
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Safelist / Blocklist and Allowlist / Denylist have been adopted in the wild.

I personally like Grantlist and Blocklist for semantic and syntactic reasons, though I understand some might be irrelevant to many. :)

  1. Both words can be used as verb and noun. This allows flexible usage in UI copy and casual discussions.

    • “IP address 127.0.0.1 will now be granted.”
    • “Connection from 127.0.0.1 has been blocked.”
    • “That should be a grant, not a block.”
    • “We got 10 times more blocks than grants.”
  2. Both words have one syllable. Makes them easy to pronounce. Compare with Allowlist and Denylist which have one more syllable.

  3. Both words start with a consonant, so the same pronouns can be used.

    • “Our approach uses a grantlist and a blocklist”
    • “Our approach uses an allowlist and a denylist.”
  4. Both words have 5 letters, use plural -s and past participle -ed. Code using both will be naturally aligned.

IP_BLOCKLIST = ['0.0.0.0/8', '10.0.0.0/8', '127.0.0.0/8']
IP_GRANTLIST = ['172.16.0.0/12', '192.168.0.0/16']
config.blocks = ['0.0.0.0/8', '10.0.0.0/8', '127.0.0.0/8']
config.grants = ['172.16.0.0/12', '192.168.0.0/16']
var blockedIPs = ['0.0.0.0/8', '10.0.0.0/8', '127.0.0.0/8']
var grantedIPs = ['172.16.0.0/12', '192.168.0.0/16']
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    Wow, such a good amount of arguments for your proposal! Thx. I think this could also be posted in the related question english.stackexchange.com/questions/51088/… since the answers there are ... not really helping me a lot.
    – karfau
    Nov 26 '20 at 12:02
11

While I find a lot of this to be silly semantics, I've actually wondered in my 30 years as a Linux admin how it must feel to be a black person, and hear constantly that a good "hacker" is a white hat, while a bad "cracker" is a black hat. We've used black/white for so long and in so many ways that yes, it will be "uncomfortable" to switch over to red/green. active/inactive, grant/block, etc. At the same time it has become painfully obvious to anyone following the US news that the complaint Americans have heard for decades that black people are disproportionately treated differently than their white counterparts is accurate, and now that we know, it seems a small thing to show that we care by losing the old black/white descriptions of bad/good. In part this started because the good cowboys in the old black and white movies wore white outfits and hats. while the outlaws wore black outfits and hats.

I once read a story where a woman was preparing a roast, and her husband saw her cut about 3 inches off of one end before putting it into the roasting pan. It made him curious, and he asked her why she did that, as the part that was cut off looked to be just as good as the part she put in the pan. When he asked her, she got a blank look on her face and told him she had no idea. Her mother had always done it that way. She called her mom to ask the logic for cutting off the end, and her mother also said she had no idea. That was the way Grandma did it. So her mother called Grandma and put the question to her, to which she replied, "My roasting pan was too small, so I always had to cut off a few inches to make it fit."

It seems to me that it is time to reevaluate whether continuing to call good things "white" and bad things "black" is reasonable, just because Grandma or Grandpa did things that way. In Linux, one way of governing access to the server is by adding IP addresses to "/etc/hosts.allow" or "/etc/hosts.deny". Allow and Deny in that scenario is a very obvious way of describing what you're trying to accomplish, and it didn't need to be "/etc/hosts.white" or "/etc/hosts.black".

I just don't see why making such a change - especially in our current national (US) situation - is such a big deal. I think block/allow makes more sense that black/white anyway. My 2 cents.

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  • Banned/Ignored/Invalid List
  • Valid/Legit/Trustworthy List

I don't believe you have to have contradictory style wording as that may hinder what you are trying to convey.

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    My worry with substituting these terms is that they're not as obviously associated, so you may get into a conversation like: "What are the Ignored and Legit lists?" - "Oh, they're like blacklists and whitelists".
    – JonW
    Dec 8 '11 at 16:35
  • hehe... my colleague liked "Legit", he thought it sounded gangsta. =) Dec 8 '11 at 16:35
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Blocked and unblocked.

If you want to avoid 'techi' terms.

3

UK's NCSC now recommends (and uses) allow list and deny list. I feel like these are very close analogs to the now, archaic, whitelist and blacklist.

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I don't know why we have three type of status. In my point of view, Do we need different types "Unblack list & Allowed list" two?. We can combined both like:

  • Active (green)
  • Inactive (red)

If you need one more option in "Active/Inactive" status (you can use one more grouping in the same)

1

This may be too simplistic:

  • "stoplist"
  • "golist"

Viable options.

Both are intuitive and should avoid the issue of personal/group identification with either term.

0

The problem is:

  • after BLM, we (white people) can't assume terms are not offensive. At least one person will be offended - in the 1980, a inner city London council banned "Man Covers" and "Black Bin Liners".
  • Both "whitelist" and "blacklist" are well established technical terms - like Jupiter or Saturn, to IT professional these works have no semantics beyond a strict technical use. Should astronomers be seen to be encouraging Saturnalia or paganism?
  • there is no industry wide accepted replacement, so any use of other terms may create confusion.

In the transition until new terms come in to common use, I've been saying "please add XX to the accept list (previously called whitelist)" until a new IT industry consensus arrives. This acknowledges the possible offense of the old term while communicating to others what you mean.

Of course, some people will take offence that anyone is supporting BLM.

0

Other alternative to blacklist/greylist/whilelist:

darkgreylist/greylist/lightgreylist

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This question was cross-posted on Stack Exchange English.

I'm developing software in the world of Linux where whitelist and blacklist are often used for drivers, devices, etc. The software being developed today is a music player that needs to get song lyrics and initially all facebook, youtube and instagram results were black and everything else was white.

However there are 10 key sites that are known to contain really good lyrics which would require "white supreme" moniker which makes me extremely uncomfortable.

So I will be using:

  • green known to be the best
  • yellow may be good or may be bad
  • red known to be bad

You can read into this answer whatever you like and read into the other answers whatever you like. I will continue the Master / Slave naming conventions in software development because we can all be slaves to our jobs regardless of color or creed.

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