“…colors play an important role not only as visual symbols of the cause but also in the emotional life of social movements.” Marian Sawer, Australian National University

When people think of Jamaica, my birth home, colorful thoughts of the glimmering turquoise sea, endless white sandy beaches, green lush landscapes and golden sunsets come to mind. Another vibrant image is the internationally known Jamaican flag that draped Hussein Bolt’s shoulders as he broke track records. The flag with the bold yellow X amidst triangles of black and gold, found liberally, by the way, through out Africa on taxis, tro-tros and t-shirts, is typically accompanied by the green, gold and red flag representing the never colonized empire of Ethiopia. However, as I flashback on my early years growing up in Kingston, I recall the color of your clothes in the wrong place at the wrong time could decide your destiny, if you know what I mean. Yes, during the 60’s and 70’s, Jamaica was fraught with politically charged crime and one was mindful of what to wear for a peaceful day. But this is neither new nor novel to the island in the sun. Political parties and/or movements have correlated ideology and colors dating back to Aristotle, but that’s another history…literally.
According to Marian Sawer of Australian National University, “…political colors play an important role not only as visual symbols of the cause but also in the emotional life of social movements. Political colors help to create and sustain collective identities and illustrate the role of affect in political life.” The same goes for sports. Amanda Lecky writes on Sherwin Williams, well known paint manufacturer’s website, “There’s color inspiration to be found balancing on beams and leaping every hurdle in athletic events. From the gold medals to the athletes’ uniforms, the use of color throughout sports history is a mosaic of enticing hues.” This is certainly evidenced through out Addis Abeba when local or international football teams take to the turf; fans color the city with painted hair-dos and team merchandise. Women, not to be left out, also choose colors in modern movements such as shades of pink for campaigns including Breast Cancer Awareness. Interestingly enough, 18th century Women’s Suffrage Movement used bold purple, white and green to signify their cause. Don’t be judgmental. Even the every day person contributes to the color discourse, particularly when parenting. Blue for boys and pink for girls with safe zones of yellow as the color “suitable for both sexes”, all part and parcel of color-ism. ThoughtCo.com Regina Bailey’s research finds, “Color theory is both the science and art of using color. It explains how humans perceive color; and the visual effects of how colors mix, match or contrast with each other. Color theory also involves the messages colors communicate; and the methods used to replicate color.” Bailey’s research reveals the multiple and conflicting messages of colors. For instance, black, though not really a color is associated with mystery, fear, death, and evil in many cultures and on the other hand represents power, authority, and sophistication. While white, again not a color, reflecting all wavelengths of the visible light spectrum, is perceived as delicate, pure, perfect and clean. However, in some cultures white is associated with grief and death while isolation, emptiness and inaccessibility are also indicated. Green, a hybrid between yellow and blue symbolizes growth, life, fertility, wealth and nature with negative notions of greed, jealousy, apathy, and lethargy weighing in on the other hand. Yellow denotes happiness, friendliness, optimism and creative competence yet it is also associated with fear, cowardice, and sickness. Red stands for power, control, and strength but also signals danger triggering our fight or flight response. For calmness and tranquility, logic and intelligence we bring you blue also associated with the lack of warmth, emotional distance, and indifference. Factoid: Blue is said to be the most popular color in the world. It gets my vote. Finally purple communicates a sense of worth, quality, value, spirituality, sacredness, and gracefulness with sorrow, fear and apprehensiveness also coming with the color many times related to royalty.
Please forgive the pun and proverbial “pink elephant in the room” in this discourse but sometimes we need to look outside ourselves in an effort to help us analyze where we are and why we are – where we are- if we want to grow and flourish. We need to move away from weaponizing wonderful things like colors found in nature – flora and fauna that heal, uplift and even stir the soul. Do you know what colors best represent you? Can you sense your shift in blood pressure, heart and pulse rate when you see certain colors? Can we ever say never to colors knowing that all colors are related emanating from the primary colors namely red, blue and yellow? So when you ask yourself what color is yours, remember your choice is probably a blend of the primaries or the source by which another’s favorite color is created.

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.