Why is it all black and white?

Rubin Vase Illusion by GDJ

Have you ever heard the sayings “black as night”, “pitch black”, “black out”, “black magic”, etc..? What do these all have in common? At first glance you can see that they all have the word black in them. However, if you look at the phrase as a whole, it is clear the word Black is used to depict darkness, whether that be literally or figuratively. Dark is the opposite of light, usually representing good. Let that sink in for a second. Essentially these phrases equate a color, a color associated with a group of people, with something that means evil.

Since slavery began, people of color have been judged as inferior humans. This has perpetuated the association between blacks and crime, one of the most common stereotypes for black people. This stereotype has the potential for extremely problematic consequences. When a police officer is put in a critical situation, they must determine whether they believe a weapon is present. Based on this judgement they will decide whether to shoot. In Enduring Racial Associations by Eberhard, it was found that “the association of blacks with crime might lead laypeople and police officers alike to more quickly detect a gun in the hands of a black person than a white person, even when the image of that gun appears blurry to them. Moreover the speed and ease with which they recognize the gun might further strengthen the association of blacks with crime.” These findings demonstrate the powerful influences psychological associations can have on actions.

Why is it that white is associated with light, representing good and black is associated with dark, representing evil? A color is simply not just a color. The meanings behind the color, bring judgement to whatever is placed along with it. This has resulted in blacks continuously being associated with badness and whites as the superior race. When an individual sees someone of a certain group, subconsciously they are associating their character with the label of their group identification.

From this what should we take away? Associations are a natural part of the human psyche. Sometimes they can be a good way for the body to remember and protect itself. However, they are not one hundred percent accurate and they can be paired incorrectly. This inaccurate perception can have the potential to cause real harm, in particular to people of color. It should be noted that people have these inappropriate tendencies subconsciously. People in positions of high power should raise their awareness of the commonality of this phenomenon in order to combat ill judgement. However, If it is subconscious is it possible to escape?