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White is a color, the perception which is evoked by light that stimulates all three types of color sensitive cone cells in the human eye in nearly equal amounts and with high brightness compared to the surroundings. A white visual stimulation will be void of hue and grayness.

White light can be generated in many ways. The Sun is such a source, electric incandescence is another. Modern light sources are fluorescent lamps and light-emitting diodes. An object that does not alter the color of light reflected from its surface will appear white, compared to the surroundings, unless it has very high specular reflection.

Since white objects such as clouds, snow and flowers appear often in nature, human culture has many references to white, often related to purity and cleanness. The high contrast between white and black is often used to represent opposites. In some cultures, like Chinese, white is considered to be a color that represents death. On the other hand in many cultures white represents purity, freedom, and hygenic purity.


The word white continues Old English , ultimately from a Common Germanic also reflected in OHG , ON , Goth. . The root is ultimately from a PIE , surviving also in Sanskrit "to be white or bright" and perhaps Slavic "light".


Until Newton's work became accepted, most scientists believed that white was the fundamental color of light; and that other colors were formed only by adding something to light. Newton demonstrated this was not true by passing white light through a prism, then through another prism. If the colors were added by the prism, the second prism should have added further colors to the single-colored beam. Since the single-colored beam remained a single color, Newton concluded that the prism merely separated the colors already present in the light. White light is the effect of combining the visible colors of light in equal proportions.

Since the impression of white is obtained by three summations of light intensity across the visible spectrum, the number of combinations of light wavelengths that produce the sensation of white is practically infinite. There are a number of different white light sources such as the midday Sun, incandescent lamps, fluorescent lamps and white LEDs; due to the phenomenon of metamerism, such sources can appear similar whilst having quite different spectra. The impression of white light can also be created by mixing appropriate intensities of the primary colors of light — red, green and blue (RGB) — a process called additive mixing, as seen in many display technologies.

The best known way to generate white light is by the process called incandescence, by a black body at various relatively-high temperatures. For example, the color of a black body at a temperature of 2848 kelvins matches that produced by domestic incandescent light bulbs. It is said that "the color temperature of such a light bulb is 2848 K". The white light used in theatre illumination has a color temperature of about 3200 K. Daylight can vary from a cool red up to a bluish 5600 K. Not all black body radiation can be considered white light: the background radiation of the universe, to name an extreme example, is only a few kelvins and is quite invisible.


White light reflected off objects can be seen when no part of the light spectrum is reflected significantly more than any other and the reflecting material has a degree of diffusion. People see this when transparent fibers, particle, or droplets are in a transparent matrix of a substantially different refractive index. Examples include classic "white" substances such as sugar, foam, pure sand or snow, cotton, clouds, and milk. Crystal boundaries and imperfections can also make otherwise transparent materials white, as in the milky quartz or the microcrystalline structure of a seashell. This is also true for artificial paints and pigments, where white results when finely divided transparent material of a high refractive index is suspended in a contrasting binder. Typically paints contain calcium carbonate and/or synthetic rutile with no other pigments if a white color is desired.While the color of a light source can be reasonably measured by its correlated color temperature, a different approach is required for objects since different samples may appear white without a reference. Thus, assessment of whiteness requires a comparison. The International Commission on Illumination (CIE) prescribes one such method.

In nature




  • Snow and ice are normally white due to the diffusing structure of transparent water ice crystals. The same is true for many types of clouds where droplets of water diffuse the white light from the Sun.
  • Whiteout is a weather condition in which visibility is reduced and surface definition lost in snowy environments.

In human culture


In painting, white can be crafted by reflecting ambient light from a white pigment, although the ambient light must be white light, or else the white pigment will appear the color of the light. White when mixed with black produces gray. To art students, the use of white can present particular problems, and there is at least one training course specializing in the use of white in art. In watercolor painting, white areas are the absence of paint on the paper. When mixing paints in order to get a lighter color, it's advisable to mix a small amount of color to white, rather than trying to add white to the color, as it will take considerably more paint to get the desired tint.

Science and technology

Computer displays often have a color temperature control, allowing the user to select the color temperature (usually from a small set of fixed values) of the light emitted when the computer produces the electrical signal corresponding to "white". The RGB coordinates of white are (255, 255, 255).

  • White noise, in acoustics, is a sibilant sound that is often a nuisance, although it can also be deliberately created for test purposes.

Asian cultures

  • In China, traditionally, white was the symbol of West and Metal, one of the main five colors.
  • In Chinese, Vietnamesemarker, Korean, Indian and Japanese tradition, white is the color of mourning and death.
  • In Indian tradition, white is also the color of purity and sacredness. It is also used for depicting Peace and Purity. However it is also the color of mourning. People wear white after death of any of their family members.

Dress code

  • In a highly-formal social function, the traditional dress for men attending is white tie or "white tie and tails"-- a white bow tie and a swallowtail coat.
  • Physicians and scientists are known for wearing white coats both as a practical measure as protection against spills and infection, and as a sort of uniform showing authority.


  • The term white is often used in the West to denote the race of pale-skinned Caucasoids people of European descent with pale to white skin color, whose skin color actually varies widely from pale pink to pale brown. It has been suggested that the colors beige or peach are a more accurate representation of the color of most Caucasians. For more details, see White people.



  • To "show the white feather" is to display cowardice. In cockfighting, a white feather in the tail is considered a mark of inferior breeding. In Victorian England a purported coward would be presented with a white feather.


Government and politics


Love and sexuality

  • White is the traditional color of bridal dress in both western (European) and Japanese weddings. In Western weddings, a white dress is thought to be symbolic of purity (the bride has not engaged in pre-marital sex). This is also said to be the symbolism of the veil. In Japanese weddings, white is to symbolize the "death" of their former family and their introduction into their new family.
  • In the bandana code of the gay leather subculture, wearing a white bandana means one is into mutual masturbation.


  • White is the color of the usual cricket clothing, usually referred to as 'whites'. It is a result of cricket being a summer game with players being exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time.
  • In Wimbledonmarker, players always have to wear white as it is a very traditional event. Players will not be allowed to compete if they do not wear white.
  • Australian Rules Football umpires' traditional uniform color is white. Nowadays most competitions (including AFL and VFL) provide other colors to ensure the umpires aren't clashing with players uniforms for higher visibility. At lower levels, however white is still the predominant color.
  • White was originally the national auto racing color of Japan until international racing colors were abandoned due to sponsorship.
  • In baseball and basketball, white is the color typically used for uniforms worn by the home team.
  • There is a Major League Baseball team called the Chicago White Sox.

Symbolic dualism with black

  • White often represents purity or innocence in Western Civilization, particularly as white clothing or objects are easy to stain. In most Western countries white is the color worn by brides at weddings. Angels are typically depicted as clothed in white robes. In early film Westerns the stereotypically "good guy" wore a white hat (earning them the name "White Hats") while the "bad guy" wore black (earning them the name "Black Hats").
    • This can be reversed as a deliberate play on conventions, by having the evil character dress in white, as a symbol of their hypocrisy or arrogance. For example, Don Fanucci in "The Godfather, Part II" is an evil character, but wears an expensive all-white suit as a sign of his esteem, power and prestige.
  • Healing or "good" magic is called White magic.
  • A Treatise on White Magic is a book by Alice Bailey, a Theosophist.
  • Yin and yang is usually depicted in black and white.
  • Board Games often has white as one of the two opponents in many board games of abstract strategy, such as go, chess, and checkers.
  • In Western TV programs, and Western movies, the "good guy" usually wears a white hat. But in the dramatic series Dallas, J. R. Ewing wears a white hat in defiance of this convention, inasmuch as there is nothing "good" about him.
  • A white hat describes a person who is ethically opposed to the abuse of computer systems, in contrast with a black hat, a person who abuses computer systems.

Vexillology and heraldry

See also


  1. OED;
  2. Whalen, William J. The Latter Day Saints in the Modern Day World 1962
  3. Prophet, Elizabeth Clare The Great White Brotherhood in the Culture, History and Religion of America Summit University Press, 1975
  4. Bailey, Alice A. A Treatise on White Magic New York:1934 Lucis Publishing Co.
  5. Flags Compton’s Encyclopedia 1958 edition
  6. The American Girls Handy Book, pg. 369

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