Crisp and fresh or harsh and sterile, a laundry line of contradictory meanings flap around the color white. How we understand color is based on who and where we are. And the meaning color has for us can change along with changes in our lives and our location. White on a tropical island is a very different experience from white (as snow) covering a northern winter landscape.
I was looking at the color white last week and realized that for me, white had became a symbol of global interconnection. How did a color I see every day suddenly have a new meaning? Here’s what happened.
Last week an early season snow of over 5 inches fell around my home in Oregon. As the snow piled up (and the shock wore off!) I noticed a strange thing about the color of the snow. It was tinged a warm white. At first the warm white color of the snow wasn’t noticeable, but as the layer of stained snow thickened, it was obvious that something unusual had happened.
Poking my fingers into the top layer of snow, I could remove that soil tinged beige layer of snow to reveal the cold blue-white layer of snow beneath that had fallen earlier as part of the same storm. It was a beautiful contrast of whites.
The next day the news reported that a dust storm in the neighboring state of Washington near Moses Lake over 300 miles away from my home in Bend, Oregon had tinged the snowfall with the warm red topsoil from Eastern Washington farm lands.
Mother Nature was giving us a lesson in whites along with a reminder that the borders we humans put around our cities, states, territories and countries are invisible to her. During those moments I spent looking at the subtly colored layers of white snow, white became my new “green”.
The idea of white as a unifying color isn’t new. The color white is regularly used in home decor as an interior or exterior paint trim color that repeats often enough around a home that it unifies a variety of other colors. White is so popular in architecture that some paint companies such as Benjamin Moore, Pittsburgh Paints and Sherwin Williams have over one hundred whites in their paint lines to choose from.
White is everywhere from underwear to outerwear. It’s in most everybody’s closet and has been for decades. White dress shirts have been a mainstay of men’s business fashion for over a century. From baby diapers to bed sheets, the color white in some variation is one color I would bet most people on the planet have. Billions of people and the color white. The meanings will keep on.