What's The Meaning of The Color Black?

The color black is usually interpreted from dark, evil or unfortunate coordinates. We show you all the interpretations that have been given to this color.
What's The Meaning of The Color Black?
Elena Sanz

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 02 March, 2023

Black is a color that people immediately associate with evil, darkness, or pain. Black is the result of the absence of photo-reception of visible light. It’s considered an achromatic color, just like the color white. Let’s take a look at the possible meanings of the color black and some curiosities and characteristics about it.

Many of the Latin-based words used to refer to the color black have been around since the 12th century, while in other languages it has a similar connotation. This color is created from the combination of magenta, yellow and cyan, with results similar to what would be expected of the standard tone.

The characteristics of the color black

El significado del color negro y la moda
Black is a color that, despite its negative connotation, is used in many different areas. One of them is fashion.

From a physical point of view, black is interpreted as the absorption of all colors. That is, it occurs when the visible light of these colors does not reach the eyes. The degree of absorption varies according to the properties. In 2019 experts from MIT created the blackest material known, with a light absorption range of 99.995 % from all angles.

This is a color that is very common in nature. We can see it when observing the night sky and in some animals and insects. Unlike all colors of the spectrum, including white, black can exist independently of light. In fact, a general definition of it is that black is the absence of light.

Is black really a color?

It’s often said that black isn’t really a color. From a physical point of view, the statement isn’t entirely wrong. Omitting many details from physics, color is interpreted as that range of visible light that humans can see and that moves across the electromagnetic spectrum. In other words, color is nothing more than the spectrum that can be seen resulting from the wavelength of light.

If it has been stated that color can exist independently of light and that its characteristic is precisely the absence of light, then from the physical point of view black is not a color. Of course, everyone can agree that this statement is subject to many nuances and that it depends on a very strict definition of what color is.

In case it’s assumed as a single definition, then white or pink are not colors, either. This is because they’re not present in the wavelength classified for colors. Thus, a more empirical and appropriate definition for it is that color is all light and lack thereof that the eyes interpret. Under this paradigm, then black is indeed considered a color.

Curiosities about the color black

The relationship that humans have had with color dates back to time immemorial, long before there was even an awareness of color. We compile some curiosities about the color black:

  • A phenomenon known as Rayleigh scattering produces the effect of the sky being bluish during the day and dark at night.
  • The Universe is almost entirely black. This is a curious fact, at least considering the abundance of stars. We refer to this as Olbers’ paradox.
  • The term black box alludes to unknown things (the metaphorical meaning could not be more precise).
  • A black hole is a phenomenon in the Universe that results from the collapse of a star of a given mass. The result is an object whose gravity prevents even light from escaping from it (that’s why you can’t see them).
  • The word black has an unfortunate connotation: think of the Black Plague, black Monday (or any day of the week to refer to financial losses), black humor, black market, black sheep, black labor, and so on.
  • Also, Coco Chanel came up with the little black dress in 1926. This was a revolution in the fashion industry.
  • The dark complexion is due to a higher concentration of melanin on the surface of the skin. This is an evolutionary effect whose purpose is to protect against ultraviolet rays.
  • Black is a sign of danger in nature. Snakes, amphibians, and insects use it to warn of their venom or toxicity.
  • This is one of the most common colors in the history of art. During the Paleolithic era, you could only get it from charcoal or by grinding manganese oxide.
  • In Ancient Egypt, black was the characteristic color of Anubis, the god of the underworld.
  • The custom of wearing black as a sign of mourning dates back thousands of years. It was already popular in Rome in the middle of the 2nd century BC.
  • The first black inks for writing were the result of fire by-products. It gained popularity over others because of the contrast with the color of papyrus, parchment, and later white paper.
  • Although it was not the color of nobility, it gained wide recognition among this group during the 15th century. The portraits of Charles V and Philip II wearing it are famous.
  • There’s such a thing as the “stereotype of black clothing”.  According to experts, this refers to the negative prejudices we attribute to people who wear this color. We tend to label them as dishonest and aggressive.
  • Some political movements such as anarchism used the color black as their standard bearer.

We could list dozens and dozens of additional references to understand the meaning of the color black. However, these are enough to glimpse its importance. We find it’s even greater when its interpretation comes from a psychological perspective.

The meaning of this color in psychology

El significado del color negro desde la psicología
The constant comparison of black with negative aspects could have relevant psychological consequences, especially when it comes to racial issues.

As we mentioned above, in general, the color black usually has negative psychological connotations. Although there’s not enough scientific evidence, the fact is that this color has certain negative connotations. For example, some studies have found that people tend to associate the color black with immorality and physical and spiritual pollution.

In turn, experts indicate that the color black is associated with moods such as sadness, fear, anger, and rage. Finally, some report that subjects with depression tend to gravitate toward the color black and brown. Despite all this, it’s very important to note that the interpretation always depends on the context.

Indeed, the association can sometimes be positive. According to studies, in business environments, black is associated with rationality, arguments, and truthful facts. That is why people use it so much at these levels, whether in suits, cars, accessories, decorations, and so on. It definitely makes a psychological impact.

It has a different meaning in different cultures

At this point, you’ve learned aspects of the meaning of the color black that you were completely unaware of. In order for you to become an expert on this color, we’d like to leave you with its significance in different cultures:

  • The Egyptians considered the color black as a sign of fertility and abundance.
  • Black was a color just for artisans in ancient Rome.
  • It’s a central color in statues and ceramics of civilizations around the world.
  • The Benedictine monks used it as a sign of humility.
  • For much of the Middle Ages, people associated it with evil and sin.
  • During and after the French Revolution, the color black gained an appreciation and high esteem.
  • In Japan, black is a symbol of experience (among many other meanings).
  • It had been a predominant color in military uniforms until very recently.

Some associate the color black, in principle, with negative aspects. However, in general, it all depends on the context. As with all other colors, it’s easy to underestimate its powerful influence.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.