Gary D. Sherman and Gerald L. Clore explore the connotations of black and white within the American culture in the article entitled, “The Color of Sin: White and Black Are Perceptual Symbols of Moral Purity and Pollution.”
Within the American culture, a metaphor exists between black & white and sin & purity or immorality and morality. Purity is not only white, but it is also contaminated by blackness of sin—black pollution. This compelling metaphor has converged into a more literal interpretation and association—no longer a metaphor but a perceived reality. “An admired person may be ‘looked up to.’ This spatial metaphor is so powerful that assertions about ‘‘high’’ or ‘‘low’’ status automatically evoke some of the processes involved in the perception of spatial location. Such a metaphor is ‘perceptually grounded,’ meaning that its comprehension involves an element of perceptual simulation appropriate to assertions about physical space” (qtd. in Sherman and Clore 1019).
Researchers used the Stroop color-word task as a measure of color association and used 2 independent coders to rate words moral or immoral on a scale of 1-7, each the extreme, and 4 neutral. The color naming in the “Stroop task” produces faster associations for words in black concerning immorality and words in white concerning morality. The finding in this study may be indicative of the racial concerns within the United States. When the metaphor is applied to races of people, black contaminating white translates to heavy racial tensions and moral judgment. This metaphor nods to the stereotypes of darker-skinned people with dirty and immoral behaviors. On the flipside, morality metaphors like “pure as the driven snow” equate purity to whiteness (Sherman and Clore 1020).
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See also Color Psychology and Graphic Design to read this series from the beginning and for a list of works cited.