whitelist/blacklist

Some comments made on Drew’s blog interest me. Doing a search on Google, the term ‘whitelist’ seems to be used almost always in terms of products that do some kind of filtering – such as that for spam.

The words ‘white’ and ‘black’ don’t immediately make me think of race, they make me think of … er … white and black, just colours. I’m interested in why the term whitelist would offend … I could understand if it had some long history and was tied in with the mistreatment of people because of their skin colour, but it doesn’t seem to have, and anyway, it’s just a word … we seem to be attaching meanings to things that don’t have any, gradually depleting our language for fear of offending.

Perhaps there are cultural issues here also, being English I have a different historical background with these issues than perhaps someone in the USA does, so I’d be genuinely interested in comments on this …

Dan Brusca on the 01 Jan 2001:

Imagine my surprise when searching for ‘whitelist’ software on Google and I find your post as the 16th result.

Mark 'bdash' Rowe on the 01 Jan 2001:

It seems to me that any objections to commonly used terms such as ‘whitelist’ are political correctness gone mad. White and black have long been used to represent good versus evil, and it is this notion that the terms ‘whitelist’ and ‘blacklist’ are based on. The implication that these terms somehow imply racism seems absurd to me.

bugs on the 01 Jan 2001:

I’m from the US, and can say that objections to the terms ‘whitelist’ and ‘blacklist’ are not common. On the other hand, we do see things like the recent flap over the use of master/slave terminology for disk drives http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/outrage/master.asp and people who freak out when someone correctly uses the word ‘niggardly’ http://www.adversity.net/special/niggardly.htm

As for the words ‘whitelist’ and ‘blacklist’, the historical origins go back at least to the 16th century and are not anything racial. Now that the politically correct term in the US for someone who used to be called ‘black’ is ‘African/American’ and since there are no people whose skin is an actual white or black color, I think there is an argument to be made that there is nobody left to be offended by ‘whitelist’ and ‘blacklist’.

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