A blacklist is a list of individuals or organizations that some entity finds undesirable, for whatever reason. It might be due to a legitimate concern: a blacklist of known criminals, for example, or of countries with an unacceptable level of government corruption. But blacklists are just as often used for discrimination on social or ideological grounds.

An infamous example is the Hollywood blacklist of the 1940s and ’50s, when many actors, screenwriters, directors, and others were barred from working because they were purported to have Communist sympathies. The accusations were largely based on innuendo and paranoia. 

As a verb, blacklist means to put an individual or entity on such a list. An example is an employer’s list of workers considered troublesome (usually for union activity).

Being blacklisted is different from being blackballed. Blackballing is a process by which any existing member of a group has the power to prevent a new member from joining. This is not a ‘the majority rule’ process, but a veto power: in a club of 100, if only one existing member blackballs a potential member, that candidate will be rejected.

The concept of a blacklist is probably as old as human society itself. For example, the English dramatist Philip Massinger used the phrase ‘black list’ in his 1639 tragedy The Unnatural Combat.

Another example: after the Restoration of the English monarchy brought Charles II of England to the throne in 1660, a list of regicides named those to be punished for the execution of his father.

Edward Gibbon wrote in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776) of Andronicus that, “His memory was stored with a black list of the enemies and rivals, who had traduced his merit, opposed his greatness, or insulted his misfortunes.”

The first published reference to blacklisting of an employee dates from 1774. This became a significant employment issue in American mining towns and company towns, where blacklisting could mean a complete loss of livelihood for workers who went on strike. The 1901 Report of the Industrial Commission stated “There was no doubt in the minds of workingmen of the existence of the blacklisting system, though it was practically impossible to obtain evidence of it.” It cited a news report that in 1895 a former conductor on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad committed suicide, having been out of work ever since a strike: “Wherever he went the blacklist was ahead of him.”

Though the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 outlawed punitive blacklists against employees who supported trade unions or criticized their employers, the practice continued in common use. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 made amendments which sustained blacklisting. Since then, lawsuits for unfair dismissal have led to blacklisting being covert or informal, but it remains common. 

Blacklisting by multiple providers is a systematic act by doctors to deny care to a certain patient or patients. It is done in various ways for various reasons; blacklisting is not new. In 1907 the Transvaal Medical Union in South Africa blacklisted patients if they could not pay cash in advance. 

I hope I never get blacklisted by the Internet.

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