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The Colour Black, “A History” Part 1

Me: “Black is a color”

My best friends: “It’s not a color”

Me:

(Give it a moment)

Black at First

Prior to the existence of any realized concept of color Black emerges as the earliest human conceptualization of artistic expression. As an innate, intuitive, and psychological selection. The prehistoric “tool of choice” for the first human beings on record. Black was the hue that our common ancestors used for communicating their very first thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences with the world. A hue of absolute status used to carve out their images by making a distinct and distinguishable impression against the earth.

The famous ‘Lascaux Cave Painting’ was discovered in 1940 in the Lascaux cave near the village of Montignac in Dordogne, south-western France, and is believed to be one of the oldest citations of art in the world.

From the very beginning, and even before that, the color and concept of Black has been transforming our reality; creating and enveloping its own history through time, space, peoples, and cultures. Black’s aesthetic interpretation, as both a color and now a “race of people,” is one the most controversial and ever-changing social constructors in the world. 

“Our primeval ancestors ‘created’ art by reaching for an expression of black [the darkest of hue] as a way to delineate themselves, their lives, and the world in which they lived.”

“What is color? What is Race?” -A Presentation of Black (Garner 2020)
The oldest (Black) pigment was made from charred plant or wood, as well as animal bone material. Iron minerals were also used in different periods to create black pigments that then be used on cave walls.

Black is more than just a word contrived and bound to the Old English “blæc” construct. It is a way to describe the material substance of matter that is quintessential to any ideas relating to color. Although art and science have not agreed over its centuries of knowledge and ideas about the very constitution or nature of black, one thing is for sure: darkness or ‘black’ has a manifold purpose in Creation -or in creating anything for that matter, and in the whole design of the universe. 

“Associated superficially with melancholy and mourning, the macabre and malevolence, black seals within itself an unexpected paradox of optimism. Every origin story, from Genesis to the Big Bang, is predicated on a pre-existing blackness as the foundation for the effulgence that follows. Black isn’t simply where we start, it was before we started. Without black, neither the stars nor soul would have anything to kick against.”

-BBC Culture (2018)

So if we are to be bound as a society to words like “black and white,” as ideological precepts that lockdown our ability to transcend beyond the paradigms of ‘race and color,’ we should go on to know and understand the greater and ominous context from which these ideas arise. We should proceed expeditiously and with great intentionality to discover what these terms came to mean over time, and why. . .

Black and White as Colors: Art and Science

The color black as a foreboding presence and canvass for humanity would go on to lose the prestigious and regal status that it had once possessed for centuries – and even for millennia – somewhere between the Middle Ages and the seventeenth century. The timing of this phenomenon is not without exceptional historical significance.

Sir Issac Newton (1672)

In 1672 Sir Issac Newton helps to explain that it is light and its refraction that produces color. Debunking the myth of his time that color was a mixture of light and darkness – and that the prism actually colored the light. Science, therefore took the position that white is not defined as a color because it is the sum of all possible colors, and black is not defined as a color because it is the absence of light, and therefore ‘color.’ These words are paradoxical beyond the realm of science, as ‘color’ will transition to define race –and race to establish human classifications.

In 1810, in a contrary view, Wolfgang Von Goethe, a German poet, philosopher, and politician took a different look at colors in the Theories of Colors in his treatise on “the nature, function, and psychology” of colors. He challenges and reframes Newton’s color spectrum, suggesting that “darkness is an active ingredient rather than the mere passive absence of light.”

…light and darkness, brightness and obscurity, or if a more general expression is preferred, light and its absence, are necessary to the production of color… The Colour itself is a degree of darkness. Black is therefore required for all other colors to have depth and variation of hue. So then Black is not just an aesthetic choice but a prerequisite.”

Why would these diverging critical stances be important for understanding the racial assignment of the ‘color black’ over time? The scientific, social, and anthropological ‘reconstruction’ of these ideas would ultimately provide the precipice for “re-framing human life,” value, and even call into question the rights of designated groups to exist as persons.

In order to critically examine the emergence and evolution of the word “Black” and White as racial designations and descriptors in history we must ask and answer the obvious overarching questions: “Where did they come from?” Who created them and why? Who did it benefit and who were harmed by them? How were Asians/Eurasians and other “non-White” groups affected as a result of these designations? 

Why are “Colors” even used in a system to represent human beings?

Questions about ‘Black and White’ have permeated the subconscious thoughts of each and every one of us, however, we never seem to go on to unpack the answer. We simply acquiesce to the “super-culture” that has been created for us, and we carry on.

The movie Cry Freedom (1987) is about the life of Steven Biko, the anti-apartheid activist and the co-founder of the South African Students’ Organization

It is a fact that “pigmentocracy” is the true word for what is commonly known as racism today. The Oxford lexicon defines the term as: “A system of social or class distinction based on skin colour; a society based on such a system; the dominant group in such a society.”

If we just look at a classical definition of the psychology of color in say, “marketing,” for an example, we can find truisms of language that are directly related to our ‘race and color’ contexts:

“Color psychology is the study of how colors affect perceptions and behaviors. In marketing and branding, color psychology is focused on how colors impact consumers’ impressions of a brand and whether or not they persuade consumers to consider specific brands or make a purchase.”

Helpscout.com

This may all seem quite benign to our everyday ‘consumer’ behavior, but what happens when color selections go beyond choosing “the blue shoes or the yellow drapes?” –When color is weaponized against humanity and used to organize and redirect behavior and decisions that broker life and death. Freedom and chains. Humanity and inhumanity. Justice and injustice. What else have we purchased?

When we really look at the implications of the ‘color codex’ we will find that concepts of ‘race and color’ are not synonymous applications to humanity.

That we have individually, socially, and collectively lost our ability to reason and ‘consciously’ ask OUT LOUD: “What is Color? and “What is Race?” That we have exchanged and confused those cultural descriptions attached to “persons, places, or things” for the very thing itself.

WHATS IN A NAME?

The insidiousness of the ‘White Superiority’ Complex

We must recognize a very simple fact. Europeans did not make the term Black negative for persons of African descent and color. The term was ALREADY negative before it was ever given to persons of color. What we need to understand is what they hoped to gain by ascribing the term Black to ‘others.’

The absence of light was to be understood by any English speaking person as something that is already negative. The term Black was already used long before it was assigned to people of African ancestry and even Indian and Asian in European nomenclature. Here we will find the convergence of color and ‘racial’ narratives.

There’s a saying that perception is reality. Reframing the color context and reassigning it to create a system of human visualization and exploitation is a white Eurocentric narrative.

We need to understand that to persons of European descent “race did not apply” to them and was not necessary as a line of demarcation within their own grouping. ‘Race’ was never created for the dominating group because the very definition of Euro- “centrism” means that the “European concept” or idea about life and others is the central and absolute standard that becomes the paragon for all existence. Therefore, we know that the concept of race is developed to describe “all others” in relation to themselves.

So why did Europeans decide to designate themselves as White? What did they seek to gain by taking the term? Why leverage the term ‘Black’ against all those others of African, Eurasian, and ‘Indian’ descent. Against those who were considered “subjects to” the European hegemony and establishment?

When you begin to understand why they chose the term, ‘White,’ you will understand what they sought to gain by imposing a psychological selection and position of superiority over other groups. There is never a selection without a ‘selector.’ Their targets are both assaulted and accosted by the power of a superiority complex that is rooted and grounded in insecurity, delusional self-awareness, and fear.

This “psychological warfare” waged and employed against the world was designed to change human psychology in such a way as to (1) create an implied bias, (2) foster an inherent perception and illusion of superiority or inferiority, and (3) to culturally impose and appropriate a false perception of reality for themselves and others.

‘White’ as a racial idea is an invention for a particular (political) purpose and is a means to a very determined end. That end is the domination and subjugation of people groups via usurping of power and control over their minds, thoughts, and wills.

The Psychology of the Colors: ‘Black and White’

The Templars (the Knights Templar of Medieval Christendom) referred to living a “Pure and White Life.” This is a way of describing oneself. “White means purity, Purity means God, and God means ruler of the Land.” Logical, but inaccurate when applied to ‘race and color’ –and that’s just for starters. The power of imagery to create words that communicate the author’s ideas must be socially and psychologically deconstructed if they are ever to be understood. We need to understand that the words ‘black and white’ are English or European words, to begin with, and not universal precepts.

From the movie, “Malcolm X,” played by Denzel Washington (1992)

Here’s another way of thinking about it… so we can clearly see and elucidate that when you can control the concepts, ideas, and images associated with the terms you control the narrative and therefore, “create the story as you go along.”

“A child is reading a book in school about the Black Death, the Black Plague, the Black Knights, and by the way, ‘I am a Black child.’ What can you do to change that association psychologically for this child now?”

“What is Color? What is Race? 2020

While White goes on to represent what is ‘human’ “black” represents the diametric opposite end of the spectrum. Black Market, Black Sheep of the family, basically anything that is supposed to be negative (or associated with negative) is black. Only now, black is a PERSON.

Black according to science means death. Black-balled, black magic, blacklisted. These were negative concepts and connotations before the word was ever applied to a person. That’s why those (Europeans) who wanted to oppress and denigrate “non-white persons” or certain ethnic nationalities used it in the first place. It’s to say you don’t have personhood. I’ve made you into a description (of a thing). The literary definition of black is an adjective, not a noun.

Black, therefore, is not really about complexion, and that’s what’s so disturbing. It’s a psychological trick bag turned inside out for fools.

How persons of African descent decide to relate to the term ‘Black’ within their own group is not how the dominant culture and society will relate to that same term ascribed to them. Why? Because the narrative is always controlled and marketed by those OUTSIDE of the group.

For so-called Black people to try and “reclaim” the many historical and positive attributes of even the color black itself within the context of a new ‘racial and social consciousness’ –and to then transform the term into something that will be perceived as “universally positive” only makes sense if they have the power to change the entire legacy of the word and its historical narratives.

-The dark seed and myth planted in your mind as true. 
-The European Word that was already negative and then assigned to the so-called “Black people.” This is the psychology of color.

The Backstory: Enlightenment reasoning and Labor exploitation

Human innovation and new cultural norms would serve to reappropriate black and white. For almost 300 years black and white were experienced as “non-colors” and not social descriptors. From an aesthetic framework, black and white actually stood together on the opposing side of what was accepted and agreed upon as colors. 

Why did we see the shift in the idea of race in the 17th and 18th Centuries? We can credit the rise of global capitalism and the period of theorizations in Europe known as the Enlightenment. 

Enlightenment formulation of history played a crucial role in the social ideologies development of race – certain racial groups (in Eurocentric view) stood outside of history or “had no history.” Groups that were devoid of history and culture were inherently less valuable and therefore subordinate to other races, natural sacrifices of progress.

How did The Enlightenment develop European thought about Race?

European theorists look to classify the world into scientific groupings through physical markers that were already established ‘social norms’ through enslavement and genocide. They, therefore, sought ways ‘to prove’ that this was a natural order and not a just social construction. We should note here that these individuals and groups of scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, artisans, and religious practitioners also considered themselves to be ‘Awake’ in the “woke culture” of their day and time.

THE PUSH IN SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITIES to categorize the natural world using Reason and the creation of elaborate hierarchical systems that emphasized the similarities between different species and subgroups –and the inherent difference between others “and Race” was put into the same constructs.

We see the development of laws to seal the deal in 1790 – where Naturalization was for free white persons, only as the color/ethnic label didn’t exist in the early laws of the 1600s. Scientific ideas about physical appearance and racial narratives were created around “folk ideas” used to justify already pre-existing social norms.

Right to Freedom. A woodcut of a male slave in chains appeared in the 1837 publication of John Greenleaf Whittier’s anti-slavery poem, “Our Countrymen in Chains.” Graphic: Library of Congress.

As the desire to perpetuate a system of exploitation expanded, more and more distinctions were made about the so-called “distinction or differences” of races. This is mainly established by the creation of ‘black and white’ people to distinguish them from their counterparts.

There was a need to focus on these two initial groupings because one group would need to be given the inherent and ‘God-given’ right to exploit and subjugate the other. This can only be done through an elaborate process of systematic dehumanization.

So this ‘evolution of race’ became more institutionalized after the social structures of slavery were already in place and not before

“The resulting idea we had about race came from a desire of European people engaging in the slave trade.”

The Origins of Race

The evolution of false race science and emerging racialization is used to find an “after the fact” justification for the why of enslaving people from one specific region rather than others. These persons would have to be ‘proven’ to be a human subspecies or ‘sub-race’ so the world would understand that only “these ones or those ones” could be legally exploited.

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Deborah Garner is the President of the Make it Different Foundation, “What is Color? What is Race? -A Presentation Black” Project in Southington, CT.

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