There are different shades of black.
This is a thing I have just learned
“Just” meaning as an adult
Once I started learning things because I cared to and not because I had to.
There are different kinds of blacks.
It’s not just Black, if you’re a painter or a designer or a lighting tech or someone with a really good eye.
There are red blacks and blue blacks.
There are matte blacks and glossy blacks.
There are soft black and hard blacks and ones that are somewhere in the middle, somehow.
There are the blacks that you see when you close your eyes, the brown red orange mustard grey blacks. The ones that feel like tornados or earthquakes or sometimes even rollercoasters, which also feel like those other things, except in the good way.
There are the blacks you notice in your clothes, when you pull on your jeans and you rifle through your t-shirts, trying to find one that bears just the right phrase so anyone who sees you wearing it will know that you’re self-aware and confident and proud of who you are, but also in the way where you need to make sure other people know it, so maybe, it turns out, you’re not those things at all. Or at least not all the way.
This is a shade of black.
There are blacks that you see in ink, in writing, in books you’re reading when you’re on the subway, acutely aware that you’re the girl reading on the train and everyone is judging that book precisely by its cover which, of course, you knew they would, so you chose the book that meant you were socially responsible or politically inclined, never the one you’re saving for the beach or for your bedside table. It’s the same black you notice when you’re at your mother’s house staring at the untouched newspaper on the counter, wondering what it would be like to still receive your information in this way instead of from the artificial black ink of the phone screen you can’t stop staring at. Wondering what it would be like to wake up every day, there, in that space, and keep waking up and waking up, and then remembering that you did, in fact, once do that, for most of your life even, and then remembering the black of the signature on the cards your mother now addresses to a different street, one that she has never lived on.
These are all versions of black.
There are blacks in nature, ones you see only when you’re looking hard, when you’re not looking at anything else. Not looking for validation or understanding or even fulfillment. You’re just looking. They’re in the ground and in the water and, sometimes, in the sky, and they exist around you but, you’re pretty sure, inside you, too, like in the blacks of your eyes, which, you think, is a pretty ironic color for eyes to be, given the seemingly impossible hurdle of darkness it bears. But it isn’t impossible for us to see. Miraculously, we can look right through the blacks of our eyes. We have to, really, or else we’d never see anything at all.
There aren’t really shades of black, actually, which is another thing I just learned.
“Just” meaning as I write this.
As I make tiny black marks on a page and understand more and more with each blotch that appears.
Black is the absence of color, technically, but it contains them all.
Black is the absence of light.
How can nothing be so big?
There are blacks that feel like nothing.
And those do feel the biggest.
There are blacks that terrify you to the core. The ones who are shadeless and deep, the ones we don’t even have to open our eyes to see. The ones we see best, really, when our eyes are shut tight tight tight. These are the ones that make us think black is hopeless, that it is limitless, that it contains nothing at all, not a shade or a version or a green or a mustard or even a softness or a hardness. It is unapproachable.
This is true black.
But if there are different kinds of blacks, there must be different kinds of whites.
White, I am learning, is more absent than black.
It has no hue, and so it is not a color.
It is not a color.
It is the sum of all colors, somehow.
It contains everything, and it looks like nothing.
How can everything be so empty?
There are whites you get dirty while cooking or the ones that blind you when the sun hits them. The whites of the snow that falls on your mother’s front lawn, that you scoop up up up to reveal the gravely, gray-black of the driveway below. The whites of empty pages, waiting to be splotched by blacks of varying shapes with many different things to say. Ones that say “I am here” ones that say “I can’t do this” ones that say “who was she?” Ones that say “this is nothing.” Ones that say “this is everything.”
And there are the some-kind-of-black ones that, when contrasted against the some-kind-of-white, say: “Black is the absence of light, not the absence of color. White contains the entirety of the spectrum, but it looks like nothing at all.”
And when you write that, you understand it.
But when you read it back, you learn it.
Black is a color. Black is lots of colors. Black is no color at all.
White is a color. White is every color. White has no color whatsoever.
And no matter what, no matter the shades or versions or angles at which you look at them, they’re constantly changing, but they are constantly there. They are different, always, every minute, the blacks and the whites, but they remain, sometimes out of sight, sometimes out of comprehension, but around. Always around, waiting to be understood.
Waiting, really, to be seen.
Illumination, I have learned, doesn’t make them stronger or bolder or simpler or more brilliant.
It only makes them visible.
About the author
Tina is a queer writer in Brooklyn, who uses Google mostly to image search 45-year-old women in suits, and Twitter mostly to report on her findings. She has a deep obsession with narrative, a CAROL tattoo, and, relatedly, a degree in film.