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Black and the colour of night

I have a goth streak in me that is about a mile wide. I do all the usual goth things: tolerance, good manners, reading vampire books and Neil Gaiman comics, thinking about metaphsysics, listening to Joy Division and above all, wearing black, or at least very dark blue or greyish, for a little bit of colour variation every now and then.

I’m now pioneering the Namibian summer goth look by wearing black shorts and a black T-shirt with sandals or boots, also black. It’s taking a bit of time for me to get used to the contrast that my skin gives. It’s usually whitish or pinkish due to prolonged avoidance of the sun at all costs.

That’s not to say that I am a vampire. I’m not particularly keen on cemeteries and crypts, and blutwurst tastes revolting to me. I don’t like the colour red very much, which is the colour I turn after about 10 minutes in the summer sun. I don’t like sunburn whatsoever. I don’t like other colours much either. Wearing something light blue, for instance, makes me feel exposed.

The other nice thing about black clothing is that it’s slimming, at least visually. I don’t feel like a heap of perambulating heap of flab under black fabric, which I do when I wear something light blue for instance. What I believe I look like, and what I look like to someone else, are probably two different things, however.

Obvious civil rights themes and hashtags set aside for focus in this piece, the colour black is brilliant.
White is a colour that reflects light back to the person who sees it. Black absorbs light, so it has the quality of darkness. But most forms of black still reflect a bit of light back. As a result, some enterprising people manufactured a carbon nanotube material which reflects only 0,035% of light. A normal black will reflect about 5% of light. It’s called Vantablack.

Light has heat. Don’t grab a lightbulb to test the theory. Just believe me. Absorption of heat is interesting. It’s the reason why black cars need more air conditioning on a sunny summer day, and why you need black material inside a solar oven. Light also carries energy. The more light absorbed, the greater the amount of energy absorbed, which speaks volumes for solar power, and for Vantablack.

From an artistic point of view, black is the first colour recorded in art history (in the Lascaux Caves for instance). It’s the stuff of delicate lines on sketches. Without the contrast of black, many priceless canvases or bits of paper would be deprived of form, interest, aesthetics and value.

So where does black get its bad reputation?

The answer is obvious. It is the colour of night and its shadows, a time when things are dimly visible. Those things, hidden in the shadows, might be wild animals, murderous humans, geophysical threats, or supernatural monsters that fester in imagination. Some of those fears may be valid for real reasons. Others may be valid, because the primary emotion of fear always alters responses.

Yet, interestingly, as soon as illumination is thrown into the dark corners, people begin to lose their fear of night. The invention of gas lamps changed behavior. Before they appeared, people in cities would retreat into their homes to avoid criminal activity.

Nowadays, night is an important time. With constant illumination, a thriving night economy is becoming more important and valuable, to the point where major cities are instituting the office of the ‘night mayor’, and official who regulates and fosters activities in the realm of night, and its interface with the economy and realm of the day. In fact the night has become so bright that the term ‘light pollution’ has been invented.

Night brings blessings as well: respite from heat, the sight of stars and the passage of the moon.
Fear of the inky black sky is ingrained though. It outlasts the evidence of illumination. Somehow that seems wrong. Some superstitions should die.

I continue to wear black. It’s my personal, if somewhat rumpled, pleasure.

About The Author

Pierre Maré

Pierre Maré is a multi-awarded Namibian advertising strategist and copy writer. From 2004 to 2016 he wrote a weekly tongue-in-cheek column for the Namibia Economist, eventually amassing an impressive 590 articles over the almost 12-year period. This series of Offbeat is a digital rerun of his pieces that received the highest reader acclaim. - Ed.