Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Black can mean several things:

Color or light

Black can be defined as the absence of visible light. For example collapsed stars, which due to their intense gravity can neither reflect nor emit light, are called "black holes". Pigments that absorb light rather than reflect it back to your eye "look black." Conversely, the combination of all colors of light is called white.

In terms of pigment, however, black is the combination of all (pigment) colors. If equal proportions of primary pigments are mixed, the result reflects little light and so is "black."

This creates two opposite yet complementary definitions of black. Black is the lack of all colors of light, or the combination of all colors of pigment. See also Primary colors and Primary pigments.

This can be explained as follows: the red pigment, for example, absorbs all light except red light; red light is reflected, and thus our eye sees the pigmented object as red. When many pigments are combined, whatever would have been reflected by one of the pigments is absorbed by the others. Thus no light escapes. (no visible light, that is; ultraviolet, for example, might still be reflected, unless some kind of "ultraviolet pigment" were added.)


The term black is also used for people with dark skin color, usually of sub-Saharan African origin (in fact the color of the skin is not black, but any of a variety of shades of brown).

In the USA, African Americans are commonly called, and call themselves, "black." However, some have argued that due to the growing scientific consensus against race as a biological category, that "blackness" is merely a social construct. After all, many African-Americans who call themselves "black" are also of European, Native American and/or Asian descent. In addition, many so-called "white" Americans are of African descent, due to the practice known as "passing", whereby some African-Americans who were also of European ancestry, and who possessed extremely light complexions and features, were able to hide their African heritage from public (and sometimes, private) knowledge.

But, especially in the United States, there is still a strong (though weakening) social stigma against those persons identifying themselves as part of more than one perceived racial category. Hence, it may be truer to say that people who perceive themselves or are perceived by others as African-American are often called "black."

The term "negro" was widely used to describe these people until the 1960s, and remains a constituent part of the names of several African-American-led organizations, but is today generally considered inappropriate and derogatory by many, and the term "nigger", once used widely to refer to people of African descent, is usually considered extremely offensive. However, some African-Americans have sought to reclaim the term from its racist history by transmuting it to the variant "nigga", used between some African-Americans as a term of endearment. It is important to note, though, that although "nigga" may be used endearingly between African-Americans, it is still generally considered offensive when uttered by someone who is perceived as not being of African ancestry.

In the United Kingdom, the term usually refers to Afro-Caribbean people. It is sometimes used to refer to all non-white people, especially in a political context. This has also been the case in South Africa.

Australian Aborigines are also commonly called black.

Usage, symbolism, colloquial expressions

In Western societies black is most often used with a negative connotation, with a few notable exceptions. For instance, a "black day" would be used in these cultures to refer to a sad or tragic day. However, to say one's accounts are "in the black" is used to mean that one is free of debt (a very positive thing in a capitalist society).

In arguments things can be black or white, or shades of gray, the intensity used as an analogue for things such as truthfulness or right and wrong. (Note that when referring to the intensity of pigment or light, black is always the complete lack of intensity.)

In Western cultures and their colonial offshoots, the color black is often used in painting, film, and literature to evoke a sense of the unknown or of death. In these cultures, the color black is often seen as the color of mourning, though this convention is less strict than in earlier times, when widows and widowers were expected to wear black for a year after the death of their spouses.

However, in other cultures, such as the Maasai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania, the color black is associated with rain clouds and is thus a symbol of life and prosperity.

People whose surname is or was Black include

Black Army: a supporter club for AIK, Stockholm, Sweden.
The athletic teams which represent the country of New Zealand often have the word "black" in their names. For example, the All Blacks are the country's national rugby union team; less well-known, the Tall Blacks represent New Zealand in basketball.