Black in history, culture, politics — a symbol of protest, a colour of mourning and racism, and of sporting greatness

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at an event on August 10 there was “an attempt to spread black magic mentality” but for the people who tried, the “era of desperation” would not end despite the black clothes. Modi did not name anyone, but it was widely understood that he was referring to congressional leaders and supporters who had dressed in black to protest inflation and unemployment on August 5.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Stop belittling the dignity of the prime ministerial post and misleading the country by talking about superstitious things like ‘black magic’ to hide your black deeds Prime Minister-ji”.

Jairam Ramesh, the Congress party’s communications secretary, posted a picture of Modi in black and mocked the prime minister for not bringing back black money as promised, instead raising “meaningless” issues.

Noting the “black clouds” of high prices, unemployment and troubles in the economy, senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala urged the prime minister to talk about the “darkness” the government has cast rather than complaining about the opposition .

Why is black seen as a marker for things that appear negative?

More than a century ago, Ellen Conroy McCaffery, in a book entitled The symbolism of colour, written in 1921, argued that science does not even consider black a color since it does not reflect light and instead absorbs everything.

McCaffery wrote that the Western world, by and large, viewed color as “merely the sombre color of mourning,” a sign that our lives have been deprived of the joy of the presence of a loved one. It is perhaps the most depressing of all colors, physically, mentally and morally.” It is the color worn at funerals in many religions.

Black is also associated with the night, with depths, with the unknown, and is often used in the English language for its intensity in phrases like “going black with rage” and “beating someone black and blue”. There are also many terms associated with the color, such as “black sheep” for someone who is an outsider, “black list” for boycotting someone, “black day” for a disappointing day, etc., where the Color in general refers to an unpleasant event. All Indians are familiar with the term “black” money or “kaala dhan” for unaccounted money on which no taxes have been paid.

But black doesn’t just have a negative connotation, does it?

No it does not. Quoting the English poet John Milton, McCaffery wrote of black being perceived as the “hue of wisdom,” a more humane hue compared to the radiant intensity of God: “…Hail thou Goddess staid and holy/ Hail Divinest Melancholy/ Whose saintly visage is too bright/ To hit the sense of human sight;/ And therefore for our fainter sight/ Overlaid with a black settled color of wisdom,” Milton wrote in the poem “Il Senseroso” (The Thinker).

White, on the other hand, is the total reflection of light, and the two are often contrasted to refer to light and dark, good and evil, and so on. But the notion that black is associated with negative or undesirable things may have to do with the perception of the color by groups throughout history, as well as the color’s striking, empty depth.

Writer Kate Carter says black is “the color of Anubis (left), the god of mummification and the afterlife.” (Source: Met Museum via Wikimedia Commons)

In ancient Egypt, black was considered a symbol of a good harvest, as the black soil of the Nile-fed region helped grow bountiful harvests. The author-editor wrote in The Guardian a few years ago remarked Kate Carter that black “was also the color of Anubis, the god of mummification and the afterlife, he was not a negative figure or evil presence but actually one who protected the dead from evil. So black was the color of death, but also the color of resurrection.”

Google Arts and Culture, a platform that brings information from museums around the world, says: “The Latin word for ‘black’, ater, is associated with cruelty and evil. ‘Abomination’ and ‘abomination’ derive from this… It is no surprise, then, that the devil was often painted in black in medieval paintings.

However, the Greeks developed a sophisticated technique for painting black figures on clay vessels, showing the early importance of color in art and culture. Clothing in black, a color of elegance, has become very popular over time.

How has “black” been used in modern culture and language?

In a Reader’s Digest article about subtle racism in language, a quote from therapist Dee Watts-Jones stresses that the use of the term black is not always unintentional.

“The English language is in bed with racism, even though most of us are usually unaware of that fact,” she said, adding, “Everyday language is a matter-of-fact reminder to African Americans that the color of our skin is related to blackmail (blackmail). ), disrepute (black mark), rejection (black ball), banishment (black list), impurity (not the snow driven), illegality (black market) and death.” Pointing out that dark never means universally negative, she said : “To vilify black or dark while extolling white or light is not universal, and regardless of the intentions of the user of these expressions, such use is contrary to racism.”

Closer to home, there is the expression “Muh kala karna” that combines culture and language. The Hindi phrase literally means to have one’s face painted black and refers to falling from grace or having done something shameful. It is often related to the caste punishment imposed on Dalits by upper-caste people for violating hierarchy-based social rules by publicly humiliating and branding them by painting their faces black.

The Greeks developed a sophisticated technique for painting black figures on clay vessels. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Because of its intensity, the color has been used in protests, such as as a simple black band on the arm. Its sad association also fits protests and similar occasions. But it’s not the only color of protest – green themes are often seen in environmental protests, or workers wear red to signal unity on a cause during protests.

In fashion, black is chic, elegant and universally recognized. A dark suit is the standard attire for formal affairs in the West, formal occasions are often referred to as “black tie” affairs, and every fashionable woman should have a “little black dress” in her wardrobe.

In sport, a black belt represents the highest level of achievement in martial arts, and the All Blacks of New Zealand are the greatest rugby team in history.

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