A Study In Black


What comes to mind when you hear the word? There are so many connotations to the word. It's been something that I'm keenly aware of everyday of my life as a black person. There are so many common sayings involving the word, many negative. I hate it when that is even first word that comes to my mind. I hate to use the word blackmail even though it's the common one. I prefer to say extortion. But there are some positive ones too. I've made it a point over the years to look for them.

I've always written poetry, though it's not something that I've shared a lot on this blog, except for this one. Over the last few days, I started thinking about different words and sayings involving black. I took out "black" and put them all together into something like a poem. I've left out many. Are there any you would like to add?

A Study In Black

letter law


as night

men in


the dahlia


history month

the death






in the





little dress







little book




pot calling the kettle

Anali's First Amendment © 2006-2007. All rights reserved.


FH said…
I think it's just in America they think black as negative.
Growing up in India,I didn't see many "blacks" except few (most handsome,tall and dark!)African students in our Indian Engineering colleges and we always called them Africans, never as "Blacks"!
Here,I don't like it when they are called "African Americans" either, as if they are all just landed here recently from Africa!!
Sai said…
I love Black....it is my favorite color. Philosophically it absorbs all colors and doesn't relfect anything.....so hence it is kind and all encompassing to me.

I own so many clothes in black and even own quite a few sarees in black.
Sai said…
In Hindusim....the name Krishna means "Black" and is the name of a Hindu God and also decribes his complexion. The other name is "Kali" a Hindu Goddess which is the feminine of "Kala" which means "Black or dark colored"

THese are the two other things I think of when I hear the name Black.
Mosilager said…




During some pilgrimages in India the most devout wear black sarongs - not sure why - and mourners wear white.

It's interesting to see how many pejorative uses 'black' has been put to in western society, never quite noticed it before.
This is a thought-provoking post, Anali. It is indeed shameful how many words with "black" in it have negative connotations. Thank you so much for pointing out the positive ones as well. Here's one more:

tie event
Barkfoot said…
Many of the negative connotations of common sayings involving the word black are wrongly interpreted as being something to do with being black. A 'white elephant' just happened to be white, nothing wrong with white, just a colour. Same with 'whiteout', white feather' and 'whitewash', no one ever saw it as an attack as being a white person, but they are all negative. Descriptive sayings involving black, are only using the word as a colour or the difference between light and dark, rarely does this refer to the person in a derrogative manner.
Suldog said…
In some European countries, a black cat is considered lucky, not unlucky.

"Pot calling the kettle" - I always wondered if there was a racial meaning to that or not?

For what it's worth - very little, probably - I always wore nothing but black on-stage when I was in bands.
Nance said…
looking at it from a creative writing teacher's perspective, this was a really cool exercise to do with any color. i think i'll steal it for an idea to use with my class.

suldog--i don't think its origin is racist. here is a discussion of that very topic: http://forums.macrumors.com/archive/index.php/t-64828.html. it begins with this explanation:

"The pot calling the kettle black" comes
from Cervantes' Don Quixote. It means that
one should not criticize another if (s)he is
guilty of doing the same thing. A pot and a
kettle both become black from cooking. The
pot can only see the kettle is black, not that
itself has also turned black.

I, however, am not entirely certain that Cervantes' use is the first.
Anonymous said…
interesting. I liked tera's black beauty suggestion. I loved black beauty as a girl. Some of the most gorgeous creatures in nature are black - black swans, black bears, black panthers -- but there is a way that even with something generally accepted as beautiful...say black diamonds or black dahlias...the word black, while not negative, carries at least a feeling of mystery. But black as a concept is not the same thing as black as a word for the color black. so i think the thing is when, why, and how people link them. I would be curious to know the associations that the color /concept black has in African countries.
Suldog said…
Thank you, Nance!
CapCity said…
Alright, Sistah Anali! U KNOW I'm loving this thought provoking topic!

I gave my Dad a Black Dog shirt and we laughed at the fact that the Black Dog is now a "symbol" of prestige:-).

I too find alternatives when I read negative uses of Black.
karmic said…
Nice list and I can't add to it really. But I sure would love to read some of your poetry if you chose to share?
CapCity said…
speaking of poetry, Miz Anali...do u dabble in prose? Every time I come to your site I'm in a Like Water For Chocolate type state of mind;-)...I think u could write an amazingly sensual novel/short story w/food as a focal point...

just something i've been wondering about for awhile...
Unknown said…
Wow, you have a lot of words and sayings there. I guess I have never really noticed the amount it is used in English. I wonder if those phrases are similar in other languages.
as the ace of spades


dog on your shoulder

Although I'd say "whitewash" could lend itself to negative connotations, i.e., "society's" wish to clean up negative events in the past so their own self-image isn't tarnished.
Lisa Johnson said…
asha - I guess it is an American thing in a lot of ways. Interesting, but what would I be called in India? I'm not African. I like the term African-American, because it is the closest that I can get to showing my heritage.

sai - I don't think I've ever seen a black saree! It must look really elegant. I wear a lot of black clothing too. It goes with everything and you can dress it up or dress it down.

Thank you for telling me about "Krishna" and "Kali!" I really like the name "Kali!" It's so pretty!

mosilager - Good ones! Very interesting how black is far more revered in India. I had no idea.

susan - Oh, I like that one! ; )

barkfoot - There definitely is an "edge" to some terms, but honestly I don't know that I would notice it if it weren't for being black myself. Sometimes it's just a "raw" feeling that I get the way certain words are said.
Lisa Johnson said…
tera - Oh I like this one too!

suldog - I do think there is some racial connotation to it, because many people who would be considered black by others and would call someone else black, didn't want to be called that themselves. It took many years before black people were proud to be called black. They could be fighting words before. Some still don't like it. Maybe this is just usage within the black community. Or I could be totally wrong.

nance - It would be cool to do with a bunch of colors. I may try this again! ; ) I hope your class likes it. And thanks for the explanation of the saying.

jennifer - I do think you're right that there are many different ways to look at the word. I guess the night is always seen as more mysterious than the day, because so much is hidden, because of the dark. So the ideas of dark and black become intermingled. Like when someone says they are "in the dark", but meaning they don't understand something. When they understand, then the "light was turned on" or their thoughts are illuminated.

And I do agree that so many things that are black are beautiful. In the 60's people finally started saying that black is beautiful. I have a funny little story. I wear a lot of black and a guy that I used to work with, who was black too, commented about it. I said black is beautiful and smiled, because of the double entendre. He got all uncomfortable and did not seem one bit amused! He didn't like that one bit!
Lisa Johnson said…
capcity - I thought you would like this one! I've done some short stories, but they are still in progress. Actually so far, none of them are really about food. My nonfiction stuff is more about food.

sanjay - Did you see the poem? If you click on where I mention it or the poem label, you can find it. I may share some more at another time. We'll see!

angela in europe - It's interesting how usage of the word seems to vary across cultures.

bipolarlawyercook - I don't think I've ever heard of the "dog on your shoulder" one. Interesting!
So So Simple said…
Just another slant on this subject.
Well google are excited about black. Google is my homepage and they have devised Blackle apparently designed to save power. How about that?
I have changed and it stunning opening up on a black page.
I'm often wearing black as well

Lotus Reads said…
Not really adding to your poem here, Anali, but I thought I'd share that blindness is the first word/thought that comes to me when I think of black. Weird, huh?
Lisa Johnson said…
so simple - I have heard about blackle. Interesting idea, but it could make it hard to read the font. I'll have to check it out.

lotus reads - Not weird. It makes sense. I guess if you're blind, black is probably what is always there.
amisha said…
this was so interesting to read, both your posts and all the comments here. so much to think about, to notice in language. thank you for pointing out some more positive associations in our culture with black... i tend to notice the negative ones (and the corresponding associations of white with purity/ goodness) and get really frustrated. i guess it is not a surprise that the language reflects the bitterness of our racial history... it gives me great hope when language-reclamation like the black is beautiful movement happens. claiming the once-pejorative word and making it powerful.
Lisa Johnson said…
amisha - I'm glad that you liked it. I may do another color in the future. Color is such a vital part of life, just the words themselves or how looking at it or being surrounded by it makes us feel.
Anonymous said…
This was a thought provoking post. I would tend to agree with you that the word black is often tied into the connotation of being marred or bad or dark. I always thought it had to do with night time when scary and evil things are said to come out. White, on the other hand was always associated with daylight and heaven.

Red is another color that gets a bad rap with being related to sexy, firey, etc.

On a personal note, black is also my favorite color when it comes to clothes. I also had a black cat named Kali :)

adding to the list:

beans and rice
licorice (sp?)
Friday & In the

("in the black" would one example of a good connotation - being financially ahead is nothing good, good, good!
Lisa Johnson said…
momish - Welcome! I love your food additions! I'm also with you on "Friday" + "In the" as well. "In the" is one of the positive sayings that I have on my list and that I've definitely appreciated over the years!
Candace April said…
Growing up, my mother was (and to some extent still is...she stopped sunbathing as much) always much darker than I was. She has very dark olive toned skin.

I thought that darker was more beautiful than my pale skin.

Now I understand both are beautiful...but that is the way I felt then.

Jennifer--You raise some really interesting points. I think that the mystery has to do with night but also, to some extent, with exoticizing the other. Not always negative, but it can be if you have one group stereotyping another as "exotic." That adjective, too, can diminish real achievements and feelings.
Lisa Johnson said…
mama luxe - Welcome! I agree that we have all have appreciate the skin we're in. No matter what the color!
Julie Pippert said…
Oh Anali, this is AMAZING.

With a simple list of words you made my brain and heart freeze...then restart, with more.

It is a cultural implication, this concept of dread of dark. Many horror stories begin with "black night" descriptions.

But all in all you really bring forward an intriguing concept. So glad you joined in.

I can't think of any to add right now but bet my brain will be working on it.

Quincy Quinzy!

We moved here from Beverly!

(Err not to distract from your point but I saw MA and got all excited LOL)

Ravin' Picture Maven
Anonymous said…
Here through Julie's link. This was fantastic. Here's two to add, magic, and ball.
Lisa Johnson said…
julie pippert - Welcome! And thank you for hosting this wonderful event! I really appreciate your comments. It's great to know that my words and the idea caused such a big reaction.

It's amazing how so many people from around the country have some sort of MA connection. And you know how to pronounce Quincy! ; ) LOL!

kim - Welcome! Thank you so much and those are great additions!

Popular Posts