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Black is the color of objects that do not emit or reflect light in any part of the visible spectrum; they absorb all such frequencies of light. Although black is sometimes described as an "achromatic", or hueless, color, in practice it can be considered a color, as in expressions like "black cat" or "black paint".

Color or light in science

Black can be defined as the visual impression experienced when 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

† various CMYK combinations
c m y k
0% 0% 0% 100% (canonical)
100% 100% 100% 0% (ideal inks, theoretical only)
100% 100% 100% 100% (registration black)

In physics, a black body is a perfect absorber of light, but by a rule derived by Einstein it is also, when heated, the best emitter. Thus, the best radiative cooling, out of sunlight, is by using black paint, though it is important that it be black (a nearly perfect absorber) in the infrared as well.

In elementary science, far Ultraviolet light is called "black light" because, unseen, it causes many minerals and other substances to fluoresce.

On January 16, 2008, researchers from Troy, New Yorkmarker’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institutemarker announced the creation of the darkest material on the planet. The material, which reflects only .045 percent of light, was created from carbon nanotubes stood on end. It absorbs nearly 30 times more light than the current standard for blackness, and is 3 times darker than the record holder for darkest substance. Scientists claim that the new material has great potential in the manufacturing of solar panels.

Absorption of light

A material is said to be black if most incoming light is absorbed equally in the material. Light (electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum) interacts with the atoms and molecules which causes the energy of the light to be converted in to other forms of energy, usually heat. This means that black surfaces can act as thermal collectors, absorbing light and generating heat(see Solar thermal collector).

Absorption of light is contrasted by transmission, reflection and diffusion, where the light is only redirected, causing objects to appear transparent, reflective or white respectively.

Usage, symbolism, colloquial expressions

Authority and seriousness

Black can be seen as the color of authority and seriousness.





  • In arguments, things can be black-and-white, meaning that the issue at hand is dichotomized (having two clear, opposing sides with no middle ground).
  • In ancient China, black was the symbol of North and Water, one of the main five colors.


  • The List of black flags, although not exclusively political, gives many political meanings.
  • The Lützow Free Corps, composed of volunteer German students and academics fighting against Napoleon in 1813, could not afford to make special uniforms and therefore adopted black, as the only color which could be used to dye their civilian clothing without the original color showing. As these volunteers were greatly praised and glorified by later revolutionaries, their choice of the black color might have influenced its later connotations.
  • Black is used for anarchist symbolism, sometimes split in diagonal with other colors to show alignment with another political philosophy. The plain black flag is explained in various ways, sometimes as an anti-flag or a non-flag. Wearing black clothing is also sometimes an anarchist tactic during demonstrations, with a practical benefit of not attracting attention and making later identification of a subject difficult. This strategy is referred to as a black bloc.
  • In Portuguese politics, black (and red) is the party color of the Left Bloc.
  • The blackshirts were Italian Fascist militias.
  • The blackshirts was a nickname for the SSmarker.
  • The black triangle was used by the Nazis to designate "asocial" people (homeless and Roma, for example); later the symbol was adopted by lesbian culture.




Ambiguity and secrecy

  • A black box is any device whose internal workings are unknown or inexplicable. In theatre, the black box is a smaller, undecorated theater whose auditorium and stage relationship can be configured in various way.
  • A black project is a secretive project, like Enigma Decryption, other classified military programs or operations, Narcotics, or police sting operations.
  • Some organizations are called "black" when they keep a low profile, like Sociétés Anonymes and secret societies.
  • A polished black mirror is used for scrying, and is thought to help see into the paranormal world without interference or distraction.
  • Black frequently symbolizes ambiguity, secrecy, and the unknown.

Beliefs, religions and superstitions

  • Black is a symbol of mourning and bereavement in Western societies, especially at funerals and memorial services. In some traditional societies, within for example Greece and Italy, widows wear black for the rest of their lives. In contrast, across much of Africa and parts of Asia, white is a color of mourning and is worn during funerals.
  • In English heraldry, black means darkness, doubt, ignorance, and uncertainty.
  • In the Maasai tribes of Kenyamarker and Tanzania, the color black is associated with rain clouds, a symbol of life and prosperity.
  • Native Americans associated black with the life-giving soil.
  • The Hindu deity Krishna means "the black one".
  • The medieval Christian sect known as the Cathars viewed black as a color of perfection.
  • The Rastafari movement sees black as beautiful.
  • In the Japanese culture, Black is associated with honor, not death with the white color being associated with death.


  • 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, such as costs, were printed in red ink, and positive amounts, like revenues, were printed in black ink, so that if the "bottom line" is printed in black, the firm is profiting.
  • Black Friday occurs the day after Thanksgiving. The idea is that the shopping that begins on this day can put a company into the black (i.e., make a profit) for the year.


  • In Western fashion, black is considered stylish, sexy, elegant and powerful.
  • The colloquialism "X is the new black" is a reference to the latest trend or fad that is considered a wardrobe basic for the duration of the trend, on the basis that black is always fashionable. The phrase has taken on a life of its own as a snowclone, and has been stretched and parodied as a rhetorical device and a cliché.

Symbolic dualism with white

  • Black magic is a destructive or evil form of magic, often connected with death, as opposed to white magic. This was already apparent during Ancient Egypt when the Cush Tribe invaded Egyptian plantations along the Nile River.
  • Evil witches are stereotypically dressed in black and good fairies in white.
  • In computer security, a blackhat is an attacker with evil intentions, while a whitehat bears no such ill will. (This is derived from the Western movie convention.)
  • In many Hollywood Westerns, bad cowboys wear black hats while the good ones wear white.
  • Melodrama villains are dressed in black and heroines in white dresses.

Historical events


  • A black-hearted person is mean and unloving.
  • A blacklist is a list of undesirable persons or entities (to be placed on the list is to be "blacklisted").
  • Black comedy is a form of comedy dealing with morbid and serious topics.
  • A black mark against a person relates to something bad they have done.
  • A black mood is a bad one (cf Winston Churchill's clinical depression, which he called "my black dog").
  • black market is used to denote the trade of illegal goods, or alternatively the illegal trade of otherwise legal items at considerably higher prices, e.g. to evade rationing.
  • Black propaganda is the use of known falsehoods, partial truths, or masquerades in propaganda to confuse an opponent.
  • Blackmail is the act of threatening to reveal information about a person unless the threatened party fulfills certain demands. This information is usually of an embarrassing or socially damaging nature. Ordinarily, such a threat is illegal.
  • If the black eight-ball, in billiards, is sunk before all others are out of play, the player loses.
  • The black sheep of the family is the ne'er-do-well.
  • To blackball someone is to block their entry into a club or some such institution. In the traditional English gentlemen's club, members vote on the admission of a candidate by secretly placing a white or black ball in a hat. If upon the completion of voting, there was even one black ball amongst the white, the candidate would be denied membership, and he would never know who had "blackballed" him.
  • Black tea in the Western culture is known as "crimson tea" in Chinese and culturally influenced languages, ( , Mandarin Chinese hóngchá; Japanese kōcha; Korean hongcha), perhaps a more accurate description of the color of the liquid.
  • "The black" is a wildfire suppression term referring to a burned area on a wildfire capable of acting as a safety zone.


Black pigments include carbon black, charcoal black, ebony, ivory black and onyx.

See also


  1. 30 times darker:
  2. Darkest ever material created:
  3. Card showing list of bandana colors and their meanings, available at Image Leather, 2199 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94114 and Gay City USA Hanky Codes:
  4. (The American Girls Handy Book, p. 370)

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