A blacklist is a list or register of people who, for one reason or another, are being denied a particular privilege, service, or mobility. As a verb, blacklist can mean to deny someone work in a particular field, or to ostracize them from a certain social circle.

Political Context

The term blacklisting is generally used in a negative context, since it implies that someone has been prevented from having legitimate access to something due to the whims or judgments of another. For instance, a person being served with a restraining order for having threatened someone else would not generally be considered to have been blacklisted, but if someone is fired for exposing poor working conditions in a particular company and is subsequently blocked from finding work in that industry, that may be considered a form of blacklisting.

One of the most famous examples of blacklisting in American history stemmed from the HUAC's investigations into alleged Communists, among whom were the "Hollywood Ten", a group of leftist screenwriters who were believed to be Communists. Among them was Dalton Trumbo, who was barred, or blacklisted, from working in Hollywood due to these associations. (He later worked under a pseudonym and wrote the script for Spartacus, among other films.)

A radio actress named Madeline Lee, who specialized in making baby noises, was blacklisted during McCarthyism. It had been discovered that she had given a party in her house to raise funds for a group later listed as a Communist front. A different Madaline Lee (spelled differently) was a regular on the Amos & Andy television show; she had no blemishes in her political past, but the network was soon the recipient of thousands of protest phone calls against her television appearances. Another actress, Camilla Ashland from the television show Danger, physically resembled Madeline Lee and received protest phone calls at the network even though she had no political past. Madeline Pierce, a 20-year veteran of radio and who had no political past, also specialized in making baby noises, and she, too, was ultimately blacklisted.

Another word for blacklisting is blackballing. This term allegedly derives from the practice of some private clubs of allowing any member to veto the application for membership of any person by anonymously placing a black ball among the white balls put in an urn by other members when the individual's application was brought up for consideration: see blackball.

Computer Terminology

In computer terminology, a blacklist is an access control mechanism, that stands for allow everybody, except members of the blacklist. The opposite, whitelist, means allow nobody, except members of the white list. As a sort of middle ground, a greylist serves as a temporary blacklist, eg. to block poorly-configured mail clients that may be used to send undesirable mail.

If an organization keeps a blacklist of software, titles on the list will be banned and everything else allowed. A school might blacklist KaZaA and ICQ; other Internet services would still be allowed. If a spam mail filter keeps a blacklist, mail from the listed addresses will be filtered away.

Copy prevention schemes include Software Blacklisting.

The assertion that the government or certain corporations are interpreting the term mail client to encompass disenfranchised human senders of messages on the Internet, and have automated black- or greylisting techniques to deny Internet access to such persons, is a sheer fabrication.


  • James J. Lorence. 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: 1999. ISBN 0-8263-2027-9 (cloth) ISBN 0-8263-2028-7 (paper)

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