What is a Blacklist?

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  • Written By: Susan Grindstaff
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 February 2020
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A blacklist typically refers to a group of people or businesses who have been singled out for avoidance. In most countries and jurisdictions, blacklisting is considered perfectly legal, with some exceptions. Generally, a blacklist could apply to a single company or single individual but it more commonly has group associations. Historically speaking, culture and race has also played a part in blacklisting. An example would be in the United States, before the civil rights movement, many blacks were blacklisted from certain types of employment.

Blacklists that pertain to race, age, sex, or religious persuasion are usually illegal, especially if they apply to employment or other tests of qualification. An example of blacklisting that is not generally considered legal would also include blacklisting “whistle blowers.” The term “whistle blower” is generally used to describe someone who works within a certain industry, and who later exposes some type of wrongdoing within that industry. These people are often blacklisted by that industry, and are no longer able to find similar employment.

In business, sometimes this type of list is created in response to poor performance or inferior products. If a company manufactures a product that has been proven deficient, other companies may blacklist it and refuse to purchase from it in the future. For many businesses, being blacklisted can be very serious and can sometimes cause the business to fail. Boycotting is also considered to be a type of blacklisting, and can have devastating effects on business.


A good example of blacklisting that resulted from cultural pressure would be what historians call the “era of McCarthyism.” Though Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy is credited with most of the turmoil that resulted from the blacklist, the list was first created by a congressional committee established in 1937 called the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). McCarthy worked closely with the HUAC and in 1950 began actively blacklisting people suspected of un-American sympathies.

The blacklist created by McCarthy included members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other grass-roots movements, but the main focus of the list was to identify and punish communist sympathizers inside the US. McCarthy's blacklist included many members of the Hollywood community, and was responsible for ruining the careers of many actors, directors, and film producers. During this era, many Americans were fearful that the Soviet Union was attempting to take over the United States by means of infiltration and subversion.

During the era of McCarthy, the whole concept of book burning became popular, as any books within libraries that were believed to have communist or socialist sympathies were burned in mass. In addition, many hearings were held to determine if certain movies should be added to the blacklist. During one such hearing, the famous novelist Ayn Rand testified against the 1944 film “Song of Russia,” which was eventually added to the blacklist and banned within the United States.


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