Tuesday, 1 August 2017

My Black Wedding Dress (A Celebration of Blackness)

Convention, Perception, and the Symbolism of the Color Black

screenshotted from Spotify
I'm listening to Chronixx's album Chronology which my Jamaican friend recommended to me. Chronixx is a Jamaican reggae artist for those who don't know, and I didn't know much about his music before. But this new reggae album is uplifting with its social commentary and personal narrative. Take a listen. You're probably wondering what this has to do with a wedding dress - don't worry, I'm getting to that.

The first song that popped up when I pulled up Chronology on Spotify was Black is Beautiful. Coincidence? I think not. He sings, "they never told us that black is beautiful". I'm taking "they" to be Western mainstream culture, but it could just as easily apply to someone or something else.

Maleficent rocking her black ensemble. Great
movie though (Source: http://movies.disney.com/maleficent)
So aside from the very obvious denouncement of dark skin in the dark days of slavery, it's no secret that both then and now, in Western pop culture (literature, art, the works), the color black has been associated with being evil/darkness and other countless negative things. You don't even need to google it. Just think of popular sayings like blackmail, blacklist, black sheep, and the fact that Maleficent and half of those evil witches in Disney movies wear black capes. Then there's this unforgettable image of my soul becoming "black" when I sin, which has stayed with me from childhood. Religious or not, it's a poignant image. Meanwhile, white is associated with purity and goodness and cleanliness. A lot of other religious references come to mind here, like baptism, and weddings, confirmation, doves...but why?

Could the "pure" connotation be because of white's supposed lack of hue? According to Wikipedia (I don’t have time for deeper research, besides Wikipedia has become the trusted Encyclopedia of our generation):

“White is the color the human visual system senses when the incoming light to the eye stimulates all three types of color sensitive cone cells in the eye in nearly equal amounts”.

Of Black, they say:
"In the visible spectrum, black is the absorption of all colors...[or] a combination of several pigments that collectively absorb all colors...This provides two superficially opposite but actually complementary descriptions of black. Black is the absorption of all colors of light, or an exhaustive combination of multiple colors of pigment."

Hold up. So black is some kind of paradox color that both combines and absorbs all colors? Interesting. So if neither white nor black is necessarily the absence of color (physics peeps, help me out if I'm interpreting this wrong here), then why is white deemed the clean-slate, all-pure color?

Is it a perception thing, or is it deeper than that? I have a few hunches. (I am aware that I might be overthinking this. This is what I do best).

Canvas, white, blank state, fresh start, pure, endless
possibilities, yada yada...
Maybe white = purity because of its canvas-like nature; it's a fresh start upon which you can create anew, painting colors that show up on its perceptually colorless surface. If you tried to do the same on a black canvas, well, the color wouldn’t show up as much. Maybe that has some sort of symbolism of its own though, because white fabrics/surfaces show dirt and grime really easily and can be marked and blemished, while black tends to hide such marks. You can take that two ways - either black represents something so pure it is not meant to be marked, or it CAN be marked but the marks are hidden, like secrets, which makes it somehow sneaky and shady.

Perhaps it is because darkness appears black, and darkness is associated with the unknown, and with sinister and evil things hiding in the shadows. Meanwhile bright light appears white, and light is associated with truth and candor and revealing things for what they are (think of all the popular adages/age-old tropes: the truth can’t stay hidden forever, what happens in the darkness will eventually come to the light, etc…). In other words: light = no secrets = truth, but just because all the facts are laid out on the table for everyone to see, does that mean it’s a reflection of the truth? What is objective truth anyway, and who says we need light to see it? Who’s to say that darkness doesn’t reveal truth in its own way - by blocking the distractions and things pretending to be truth, and leaving our senses free to sense the real truth, whatever that may be? (I’m thinking in a figurative sense here, but if
Darkness vs Light, Black vs White,
where can truth be found?
you’re looking for a more sensual example, think of when you finally switch off your bedroom light to sleep at night. When you’re lying in bed, eyes closed, no longer dependent on your eyes to take in light and give you vision and process everything around you as you go about your day, you’re finally free with your thoughts. Why do people say to close your eyes when you meditate, or when you pray? You’re excluding light, you’re inviting darkness of vision, and you’re freeing yourself of objectivity to come to terms with your personal perceptions and hidden truths.

I think then, that yes, black is inevitably associated with darkness because to our simple human eyes darkness appears black, but there’s nothing to say that darkness doesn’t come with a purity of its own.

This is what got me thinking about my wedding dress. On the occasion that I've thought about my own wedding, I never questioned the fact that I’d wear a white wedding dress - as is tradition, and I value tradition, I really do. But as I think more and more about it, I cannot actually see myself in a white dress, because I almost never wear white as it is, and why should I have to?

Chronixx’s Black is beautiful started this train of thought, because I thought heck yea black is beautiful, and I wondered, what if I wore a black wedding dress, just to make a statement? But is making statement worth the beauty of a
Even my bitmoji is rocking those dark winter
tones LOL
traditional white wedding gown? For me, yes! Because I hate wearing white anyway. Even my confirmation outfit was off-white, and I’m happy that it was, because I’m just not a fan of wearing clear white (besides, my Winter skin tone demands deeper, darker shades, and white is not very high up on that list).

I also feel most confident in a dark ensemble. I’m like my dad in that way - he loves to travel, and he always travels with a blue shirt and (probably also blue) jeans. When it comes to clothing, blue is my spirit color. Bright colors were never my thing. Maybe I'm not trying to make a statement. Maybe I hide behind darker shades of clothing. Maybe it's more to do with confidence than aesthetics. Either way, white certainly has never been my color, and I seldom choose white clothing over another color.

Throwback to graduation, circa 2012 (aka possibly
the closest shade to white that I'll be comfortable
wearing when it comes to long gowns)
So given my discomfort wearing white clothes, why shouldn’t I wear a black wedding dress? Or some shade of blue for that matter (that would be gorgeous!)? Because convention says not to? Because tradition renders it unbecoming? Five minutes of googling taught me that although white is thought to signal purity and whatnot, it wasn't always like that, and it was Queen Victoria in the 19th century who popularized the white wedding gown by wearing white to her wedding. Women usually just wore their best dress! It's about making you feel most beautiful on your special day, right? That makes sense, and I'm sure not everyone feels like their best self in a white gown. Yet, the white-gown trend stuck, and white for weddings became associated with purity. Old habits die hard, and we'll always find a way to attach meaning or symbolism to arbitrary things. So the white gowns remain trendy, and convention stays winning.

This! Is it just me, or is this stunning? (Source: Pinterest)

But there comes a point when convention is broken and tradition evolves. It's not just about breaking the convention of wearing white, but resisting the negativity associated with black, too. And while it’ll take much more than little old me wearing a non-white wedding dress to break the negative connotations associated with the color black, there’s no reason for me to personally uphold that convention in my life.  Because yes, it’s small things like this that affect your subconscious, and these are the connotations that we internalize and start to believe. I will admit that there are times that I’ve looked at a white person’s skin compared to mine and felt somehow…dirty. It pains me to type that. Maybe it was a mere fleeting thought that has nothing to do with how the color black and black skin is perceived in Western culture (I can’t speak for other cultures), or it might have everything to do with it.

Either way, it’s exhilarating to realize that I have the power within me to change how I perceive my world. It’s empowering. I am empowered. And I am Black. And Black is beautiful.

Watch dat melanin POP! #blackisbeautiful

[whispering ensues] Upon further thought...Would I really have the guts to wear a black wedding dress 7-10 years from now? Unclear. But I could see myself rocking a white and gold, or blue, or cream one. Only time will tell. I'm curious to see whether this is simply me going through an early-twenties, contrarian, lets-oppose-the-mainstream phase, or if it's something I'll still be considering in the future. And if I go through with it, is it something I'll regret years later as I wipe the dust off my wedding photos? Eh, probably not. We'll see. Ten or so years from now I'll add another post-script with my wedding photo attached and we'll have some proof. Stay tuned.