Over the past few weeks, protesters around the world have spoken out against all forms of racism and to proudly declare that Black Lives Matter. Google has been a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests, and now the Chrome team is beginning to eliminate even subtle forms of racism by moving away from terms like “blacklist” and “whitelist.”
Update: Google’s Android team is now implementing a similar effort to replace the words “blacklist” and “whitelist.”
Since October of last year, Google Chrome — or more specifically the Chromium open source project — has included guidance in its official code style guide on how to write “racially neutral” code. The document clearly outlines that Chrome and Chromium developers are to avoid the words “blacklist” and “whitelist” in favor of the neutral terms “blocklist” and “allowlist.”
Terms such as “blacklist” and “whitelist” reinforce the notion that black==bad and white==good. That Word Black, by Langston Hughes illustrates this problem in a lighthearted, if somewhat pointed way.
Google had already made some headway on swapping “blocklist” in for “blacklist,” with efforts having begun as early as May 2018 to remove the user-facing instances of “blacklist” and “whitelist” in Chrome. However, Chrome’s internal code still has many many references to blacklists including an entire section of code called “components/blacklist.”
In light of the recent protests against racism and police brutality, at least one Chromium developer has taken it upon themselves to make good on Chrome’s desire to have racially neutral code. This afternoon, a new code change has been submitted that attempts to safely replace every possible instance of the word “blacklist” without breaking any part of the browser, with the ultimate goal of renaming “components/blacklist” to “components/blocklist.”
This is the first of 2 changes to rename components/blacklist to components/blocklist. This contains all the class/method/member/variable renaming. There should be no functional differences here. This patch will be followed by another patch that renames the directory/files and updates the necessary build system rules. The vast majority of the changes here are simply replacing an ‘a’ with an ‘o’.
In total, over 2,000 references to the word “blacklist” are set to be replaced, once the code change has been reviewed and accepted. It’s encouraging to see Googlers taking action to combat racism in all its forms, and serves as a reminder that all of us have the power to fight the racism within our own realms.
Update 6/12: Less than a week since we uncovered Google’s push to make their existing Chromium/Chrome code more inclusive, a similar push has begun within the Android team. As shared by Mishaal Rahman, at least one Android Open Source Project developer has taken on the effort to use more “inclusive language” in multiple areas of the codebase.
Just like Chrome, the Android team has actually already had guidance telling developers to use “allowlist” and “blocklist” since at least May 2019. One developer offers a shortened version of Google’s (internal-only) explanation for the change in words, which goes beyond being more inclusive.
As a mildly interesting factoid, where most of the changes to Chromium involved changing “blacklist” to “blocklist,” Android’s changes primarily consist of swapping “whitelist” out for “allowlist” or “whitelisted” for “allowed.”
Additionally, since we originally covered the change to Chromium code, both the original code change and a more significant follow-up change have been accepted into the Chromium codebase.
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