Some may argue that the terms ‘whitelist’ and ‘blacklist’ are not technically correct. Others may say that they are not race and culture-sensitive. Today, we explore the terms and take a stand on why we are moving away from them. It’s definitely not easy, but we’ll try.
So what’s the problem with whitelist and blacklist?
This morning, Twitter user and co-founder of HUG @debsoon expressed her frustration regarding a deleted tweet from DIVERSE. The tweet simply says: “Who’s ready for a WHITELIST POST?” She thinks that it is very ironic given that DIVERSE is an advocate for diversity, equality, and inclusion. To be clear, Debbie is not the first to voice out about this issue. 10 years ago, Laurel asked this very question on Stack Exchange, receiving mixed reactions.
Generally speaking, there seems to be little to no noticeable change, especially in the booming NFT industry. A common response in the thread is that this is something that the community has to take responsibility of, and not something that one or two companies can change. So, why the hoo-ha?
1. Technically, there are better terms
‘Whitelist’ and ‘blacklist’ are age old terms used in various industries, but not all. Although these terms are not difficult to remember, cybersecurity consultant Rob Black shares that some clients outside the cybersecurity industry do not understand these terms. According to his LinkedIn article, the terms can be defined as:
Whitelist: A list of who or what that is allowed access to a given device or service.
Blacklist: A list of who or what that is blocked access to a given device or service.
Given that the definitions do not have a hint of white or black, would ‘allowlist’ and ‘blocklist’ be an easier means of communication? Anything that reduces the possibility of miscommunication should be a good thing right? Of course, this alone does not warrant the shitpost from @hugxyz’s Debbie Soon.
2. Of diversity, equity and social justice
The Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. have certainly given rise to conversations around diversity, equity and social justice. Tech companies have been using blacklist and whitelist, master and slave, and other common terminology for decades. It’s about time for a change don’t you think?
SAP has announced that they will be moving away from these terms, but the change will take time. The in-house linguistics team will have to change all their documentation, training materials, user interfaces and websites. All this without affecting the operations of businesses worldwide. Other companies such as Linux, Oracle and Google are making similar adjustments. In addition, the U.K. National Cyber Security Centre have also taken their stand.
Depending on the utility, SAP will use allowlist/blocklist, exclude list/include list, and avoid list/prefer list. As an alternative to master/slave, they will use leading/subordinate, or source/replica.
To conclude, here’s a quote from StackRox’ Michelle McLean:
“Linguists have long made a compelling case that words directly shape our consciousness and our reality, so we need to take steps like removing such racist terms from our technical vocabulary as a small part of a much larger effort needed to create positive environments and opportunities for Black and other underrepresented people in tech”.
So NFT fam, shall we?