The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







This article is about the color black; for other uses, see Black (disambiguation).

Black is a color with several subtle differences in meaning.


Color or light

Black can be defined as the visual impression experienced in directions from which no visible light reaches the eye. (This makes a contrast with whiteness, the impression of any combination of colors of light that equally stimulates all three types of color-sensitive visual receptors.)

Pigments that absorb light rather than reflect it back to the eye "look black". A black pigment can, however, result from a combination of several pigments that collectively absorb all colors. If appropriate proportions of three primary pigments are mixed, the result reflects so little light as to be called "black".

This provides two superficially opposite but actually complementary descriptions of black. Black is the lack of all colors of light, or an exhaustive combination of multiple colors of pigment. See also Primary colors and Primary pigments.

† various CMYK combinations
c m y k
0 0 0 255 (canonical)
255 255 255 0 (ideal inks, theoretical only)
255 255 255 255 (registration black)


The term black is often used in the West to denote "race" for persons whose skin color actually ranges from pale to dark shades of brown, and overlaps with some people that might be classified as "whites". For a discussion of usage, see the main entry at Blacks.

Usage, symbolism, colloquial expressions

In the Western world, black is most often used with a negative connotation:

  • A "black day," in these cultures, would refer to a sad or tragic day.
  • In these cultures, the color black is often used in painting, film, and literature to evoke a sense of the fear or to symbolize death.
  • Black is often a color of mourning. Historically, widows and widowers were expected to wear black for a year after the death of their spouses.
  • black comedy is a form of comedy dealing with morbid and serious topics.

However, black can have positive symbolism.

  • In the Maasai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania, the color black is associated with rain clouds, becoming a symbol of life and prosperity.
  • In Western fashion, black is considered reliably stylish.
  • Many priests of the older religious denominations traditionally wear black.
  • The colloquialism "the new black" is a reference to the latest trend or fad.
  • To say one's accounts are "in the black" is used to mean that one is free of debt.
    • (being "in the red" is to be in debt—in traditional bookkeeping, negative amounts, like losses, were printed in red ink, and positive amounts, like profits, were printed in black ink.)

Black can also be used in many non-judgmental ways.

  • Black is often used in Western culture to refer to race. For more details, see Blacks.
  • The term "black hole" is applied to collapsed stars. This term is metaphorical in the extreme, because few properties of black objects or black voids apply to black holes. However, light emitted within a black hole's event horizon cannot escape, hence a black hole cannot be directly observed.
  • In auto racing, a black flag signals a certain driver to go into the pits.
  • Black is also used for anarchist flags, sometimes splitted in diagonal with other colors for further symbolism. It is also sometimes an anarchist dress code, with a practical benefit of not attracting attention and making later identification of a subject difficult. This strategy referred to as a black block.
  • In German politics 'black' is used colloquially to refer to the conservative parties CDU and CSU
  • In ancient China, black is the symbol of North and Water, the one of main five colors. There is no any negative or positive meaning
  • Black is the colour of the snooker ball which has a 7-point value, and also the eighth billiard ball. In the game of eight ball, this ball is the ultimate object of the game, but, if accidentally sunk, means instant loss of the game.
  • A polished black mirror is used for scrying, and is thought to help see into the paranormal world without interference or distraction.

See also

Last updated: 10-25-2005 02:01:21
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