White, which groups all the colors of the rainbow, has powerful symbolism.
White is an achromatic color that is normally opposed to black because it is just the opposite: it is absolute clarity, or the absence of darkness.
But it is not simply that, since beyond what the target is technically, the impact it has on the human mind remains. An impact modulated by the culture in which we live and by the system of symbols from which reality is experienced, of course, and which is related to a series of sensations and concepts that evokes us when we see it.
In this article we will see what the color white means in different societies and cultures, focusing especially on Western countries.
What does the color white mean in different cultures?
It should be borne in mind that there is no universal meaning of the color white, but that it is always mediated by the cultural context in which we have been educated and that influences us on a day-to-day basis. So, let’s see what concepts and sensations white evokes, distinguishing by cultural blocks.
In the west
As we will see, in Western countries the white is associated with a series of concepts that are associated with a fragile and momentary equilibrium, a state in which there are no antagonisms or stridency. In some way, these place the target in a position of closeness to the spiritual, which has traditionally been seen as beyond matter and not subject to the imperfections of the earthly.
1. Purity and naivety
The paradox of white is that, despite being the combination of all the colors present in the rainbow, it represents purity. This has been the meaning of white most associated with white, meaning purity, normally, that which has not been corrupted, for which it has clear moral connotations.
Perhaps this is because the color white is seen as something of precarious existence, which can fade when any other element comes into contact with it; the immaculate begins to stain when the white is invaded by the dirt that comes from other elements.
For a similar reason, in Western countries white means innocence, since it is related to childhood, which has not had time to be corrupted. It is a fatalistic perception of the life cycle that is reflected in our way of attributing meanings to this color. In addition, the concept of naivety is also related to white.
On the other hand, since white is purity, it is also widely used in ceremonies related to the sacred, since it is said that before the divine one must present oneself without blemish. Wedding dresses are the clearest example of this.
2. I clean it
In addition, white represents cleanliness, sterilization, also related to purity. For this reason, it is widely used in the hospitality industry and in the health sector, to reassure people and give them a feeling of calm.
Another of the meanings of white is that of peace, which is often symbolized by the figure of a white dove. In fact, this is also why it is linked to the flag of surrenders and those used to ask for a truce.
The reason why white means peace may have to do with the fact that it is beyond the typical color compositions of the flags and emblems of the clans that face each other in battles.
While the rest of the colors are usually present in concrete figures that serve to distinguish sides, white is perceived as something with its own entity, as it is the union of all colors, and that therefore is beyond the logic of fronting based in division.
From what we have seen, white also represents the absence of matter, the void. This representation of nothingness allows the target to be placed in the concept of what exists “by default”, independently of everything else.
A blank is there without anything having to fill it, since the blank is nothing, and it will become full when we add something to it. Perhaps this has to do with the meaning of purity, which leads us to think about this color as if it were an element to which nothing has been affected yet, and to which everything is yet to be added.
Interestingly, in China white has traditionally symbolized death and bad luck. At weddings, instead of white, the color red has been used.
In Indian culture, white symbolizes the contemplative life and apart from the rest of society, something linked to the Western notion of purity, but with more social and isolation connotations. For this reason, widows usually wear white, not black.
- Plochere Color System. Kenneth L. Kelly and Deanne B. Judd. (1976): “Color: Universal Language and Dictionary of Names”, National Bureau of Standards, Spec. Publ. 440
- Heller, Eva (2012). Color psychology. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili.