Beyond black and white: welcome to the new listings

AAX is pleased to be revising our vocabulary. In the name of both a) dismantling harmful stereotypes and b) enhancing clarity, we’ll be replacing the term “whitelist” with “allowlist” and “blacklist” with “blocklist.”

These new naming practices reflect a change that’s been occurring industry-wide. The last year has seen a period of sorely-needed cultural consideration regarding racism and prejudice, and how best to dismantle and work against them.

And that includes grappling with terms like “whitelist” and “blacklist.”

When the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) changed their term usage last spring, they explained that:

[…] there’s an issue with the terminology. It only makes sense if you equate white with ‘good, permitted, safe’ and black with ‘bad, dangerous, forbidden’. There are some obvious problems with this. So in the name of helping to stamp out racism in cyber security, we will avoid this casually pejorative wording on our website in the future. (Source)

This issue—of racism embedded in the language we use, often without thinking—is well past due for a reckoning. In a recent piece for AdExchanger, Andrew Kraft harkened back to a famous 1971 interview where Muhammad Ali considered loaded terms that framed “white” as “good” and “black” negatively, writing:

[…] he recalled that all the positive things he grew up with were white, from White Cloud tissue paper to the White House, while all the negative things, from the bad luck of a black cat to the term blackmail, were black. Nearly 50 years later, that linguistic measuring stick is alive and well. (Source)

We think that it’s time to change our vocabulary.

There’s an additional benefit to this terminology change. Terms like “whitelist” and “blacklist,” while understood within the industry, can be confusing to newcomers to the ad space. Replacing these terms with the more explanatory “allowlist” and “blocklist” makes these words instantly accessible: an allowlist allows, and a blocklist…blocks. If doing away with outdated terminology helps us communicate more effectively and succinctly, we consider that to be a bonus.

Because the words we use matter. And AAX is committed to working against racism in all forms, including at the linguistic level.