Fear of color is tied to fear of people of color


In a fascinating piece called “Color, Chromophobia, and Colonialism: Some Historical Thoughts” the Apartment Therapy blog (no author listed) describes the historical linkage between colonialism and the idea that bright colors are declasse or tacky. The article is worth reading in whole, I selected just one quote to share:

In England, contemporaries often called the Indian textiles “rags” or “trash” and scorned their bright colors, and in Europe more generally, bright colors were taken as a sign of degeneracy and inferiority. The German writer Goethe famously stated that “Men in a state of nature, uncivilized nations and children, have a great fondness for colors in their utmost brightness,” whereas “people of refinement” avoid vivid colors (or what he called “pathological colors”). In short, a love of bright color marked one as uncivilized, as not possessing taste, as being “foreign” or other. Color represented the “mythical savage state out of which civilization, the nobility of the human spirit, slowly, heroically, has lifted itself — but back into which it could always slide” (Batchelor, 23)…  The very idea of “good taste,” as opposed to the “garishness” and “tackiness” of colors that we say hurt our eyes or that we find offensive, draws on a deep well of cultural assumptions of what is “normal” or “refined.” [link h/t @KateBomz]

Is this connected to New Yorkers only wearing black? It seems likely since the idea that black was classy comes over from Europe. What I wish I knew is whether wearing black was embraced as much by non-whites in NYC as it was by whites. Certainly, in Los Angeles, the Zoot Suit was about wearing color, but I know little about the intersection of race and fashion and the blurb below from New York Magazine does little to inform me:

… while New York might own black, we didn’t invent it. No surprise: This city has always looked across the ocean for inspiration…. By midcentury, the color had become the thing to wear in New York if you were knowing, creative, or powerful. Also, notably, masculine. Jackson Pollock exemplified the supremely macho artist, and he exemplified this while wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt. Black was the uniform of the jazz musician, then the downtown beatnik, then the punk. The kid with the Mohawk panhandling on St. Marks wears black, which makes it all the more remarkable that the Park Avenue hostess does too, knowing she could never go wrong if she just wore it with pearls. [link]

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