The Colour Black

Black is, contrary to white, the total absence of light.

Is black a colour anyway?

Well, here we have different points of view. Since colour is generated by absorption and reflection of light, black would be the total absorption or absence of light. Nonetheless, we use black as a dye and colour, but we count it to the group of achromatic colours.

Also, there is one colour definition:

“The property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way it reflects or emits light.”

src: Oxford Dictionaries

I say yes, black is a colour.

The colour of death and sorrow

In western countries we wear black clothing at funerals, black represents death and finality. Supposedly, spirits can´t see black for some reason, so the bereaved wear black to grant the soul a smooth passage to the netherworld.

But since we have no clue what actually happens upon death, black is also the colour of mystery.

Crow on a spruce tree
Crow on a spruce tree | photo: (cc-by-nc) Mark Germani

The colour of individuality

We may wonder, why black is the colour of individuality, if every second guy out there wears something black (not counting in Goths and Mathematicians).
Well, simple: Our eyes tend to drift away from black surfaces, allowing us to focus on the face – therefore, black clothing points out the character of the wearer.

Undefeated | photo: (cc-by) Lee Thatcher

Contrast and combinations

Black may be combined with any other colour. They appear brighter, shinier in front of a black background.

Black and white together create the strongest contrast possible, so we write mostly black on white, and the text becomes easier to read.
On the other hand, too strong contrasts may tire our eyes quite fast.

Hanoi Turtle Tower by Night
Hanoi Turtle Tower by Night | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox

Overview: Black

  • Black is an achromatic colour
  • The absolute absence of light
  • Africa is referred to as the black continent (dark, fertile soil there)
  • Black is the colour of grief, death and sorrow
  • Black is also the colour of hidden and illegal activities, black market for example
  • Black clothing may also appear distant, noble and elegant
  • A perspective of black and white means, that someone only sees good and evil, yet no shades between
  • Black in politics means conservative
  • The Black Death is the pest
  • The black sheep is the one individual that stands out from the flock
  • The black cat brings misfortune (supposedly, but absolute nonsense)
  • “The crow calls the raven black” is a term that would mean “You are nothing better”
  • Oil, coal and other stuff like coffee for example are referred to as black gold
  • K (Key) means black in the CMYK colour system

Roasting Coffee Beans From Khe Sanh
These coffee beans are not really black, but let us call them black gold nonetheless | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox

The colour of power

Well, the true colour of power would be red. But nonetheless, black emits a certain feeling of power. Many people have an uneasy feeling about black, so others use(d) it to gain a better position. Mind the flag of pirates, military uniforms, manager suits or priest robes.

Jolly Roger of Calico Jack
Jolly Roger of Calico Jack | photo: (pd) OCL

(Quite interesting to watch: I usually am dressed entirely in black, sometimes I wear brown and green. And if I would write down some kind of contact statistics – I happen to have the one or another nice chat with a lot more people when dressed in green than black. On the other hand, more interesting characters I meet in black. Coincidence?)

Fashion trends

Nowadays lots of people wear black for a large variety of reasons. One may be the mentioned focus on face and character, another reason may be insecurity or low self-confidence. Another one the simple fact that black may be someone’s favourite colour, or it supposedly makes people appear slim.
A lot more younger people wear black than older ones.
Perhaps the reference to death scares older people? Well, I guess in about 30 years I may update this article with my own experiences.

However, black can be combined with any other colour, very convenient.

Black Dress
Black Dress | photo: (cc-by-nc) Sarah Tirona

In China, I even bought black cotton swabs these days. They must really like me to brand those articles in my favourite colour 😀

Black Cotton Swabs
Black Cotton Swabs | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox