The South African Series

Black Is Beautiful, But THIS Black Terrifies Me

Remember I told you all a few months ago that months ago that the family was moving into a century-old Dutch style home? And how excited I was because I know that the original builders never could’ve imagined in 100 years that my big, Black arse would be living in the lodgings so comfortably with my own belongings? How the thought of them spinning in their graves caused me to tingle with satisfaction? Well, it seems as though the ghosts of those voortrekkers (trans: pioneer, colonist) got their revenge. The spirit realm is not to be trifled with, I tell you.

When we rented this house in the middle of the idyllic city of George, (and yes, it is named after THAT king) we saw its immediate potential. The interior walls were – and still are – painted the most appalling chicken fat yellow and the light fixtures, outdated. Before we took a whacker to it, the garden was overrun with weeds and flora of questionable origin. What stands in the midst of these few eyesores is a sturdy structure that afforded each member of our family the privacy we need and the space we craved. This week, we decided to tackle the poultry innards that color our walls.

Our landlord has graciously allowed us to make whatever upgrades we want at our expense. His generosity has not gone unmarked. We’ve decided (and that really means ‘I’) that we want to decorate the house in a modern dichromatic style; in this case black and white. It’s clean, it’s classic, it’s easy to splash color with. Once the walls were painted a blazing white, the next step was to choose an appropriate black for the crown molding.

This is the vibe we were going for.

“It’ll have to be a high gloss black,” my husband said decisively. 

“Yes, of course.”

“No,” he reiterated. “I mean a high, HIGH gloss. It needs to stand out.”

I nodded in agreement, almost dismissively. I mean…it’s black.

The next morning he set off to Builders and returned with a pint of black oil based paint. I left him standing on a ladder and when I returned the ceiling looked like this.

I felt a pang of terror shoot through the entirety of my body. I reacted.

“No. Nooooo!!!”

“It won’t be so shiny when it dries…”

I shook my head furiously.

“It doesn’t matter how long it sits drying. It will always be too shiny. It will always be wrong. This is colonial black. This is slave dungeon black. This is the type of black that heralds the destruction of cultures and tearing apart of families!”

Hubby laughed, because as usual he thought I was just being dramatic. I urged him to look at the black; to really look at it.

“Remember Elmina slave castle? Remember the canons and the canon balls? Remember the cell with the skull and cross bones for condemned men in solitary confinement? What color was it?”

“Black,” he mused.

“But not just any black,” I pressed. “It was this black! It’s gotta go.”

Y’all. I have never had such a visceral reaction to a color in all my life. Think about your day. Your life is filled with colors and hues that evade your attention. Who cares what color blue your dentist’s trainers are, or if this trotro’s white doesn’t exactly match the shade of the one rumbling right behind it? Or if the wood pigeons are looking exceptionally brown today? These are little facts that you register and tuck into your subconscious memory. They don’t invoke an ancestral terror in you. They don’t transport you back 400 years and dozens of broken treaties ago.

Of course I had to look up if the trauma I was experiencing was qualifiable. Was there a medical designation for it? Had anyone else suffered a similar reaction to this tone and gloss of black, or was I just some strange anomaly. The closest thing I could find is a condition called melanophobia, which is a fear of the color black, as it’s mean to symbolize mourning, plagues and death. This does not describe what I experienced. I experienced a fear of being put in chains, starved and boarded onto a putrescent Dutch trading vessel. 

The next morning, I accompanied Marshall to City Paint where we procured an appropriate, more calming black. It’s called “dusky sunset”. After a brief discussion about our unfortunate choice (I didn’t mention the dungeon and shackles) the service manager informed us that that particular oil based paint is no longer being produced in the country.

“Because it’s oil based, it’s too expensive to produce. And people are going away from the extra shiny look. It’s a very old style.”

Yeah… No sugar, Sherlock. A paint swatch circa 1619 AD is very old indeed.

I hope the spirits of the previous occupants had a good laugh at my expense. I’ll say our score is about even now. I won’t make light of the fact that apartheid’s demise has given me the right to live in their home if they promise not to startle me with whatever the hell that was ever again.

It’s common knowledge that scent invokes strong emotions, but color less so. Have you ever had a visceral reaction to a peculiar color? Was it pleasant or not so much?