31 July 14
Chromophobia, Colonialism, and the Freeway
Often when I find myself in traffic I marvel at just how dull the colors be of the American automotive fleet. Dark grays, white, blues that are no brighter than midnight, and only the occasional red, but even that not straying to the glories of vermilion. The lack of imagination — where are the sports cars banded like king snakes, the station wagons two-toned in cerulean and stratus gray? — depresses me a bit.
Here is a historical gloss on the lack of color choices in the American car market, from an article Color,Chromophobia, and Colonialism: Some Historical Thoughts (via the estimable medievalpoc)
According to some art critics, sensory anthropologists, and historians, this mutual attraction and repulsion to color has centuries-old roots, bound up in a colonial past and fears of the unknown. Michael Taussig has recounted that from the seventeenth century, the British East India Company centered much of its trade on brightly colored, cheap, and dye-fast cotton textiles imported from India. Because of the Calico Acts of 1700 and 1720, which supported the interests of the wool and silk weaving guilds, these textiles could only be imported into England with the proviso that they were destined for export again, generally to the English colonies in the Caribbean or Africa. These vibrant textiles played a key part in the African trade, and especially in the African slave trade, where British traders would use the textiles to purchase slaves. According to Michael Taussig, these trades are significant not only because they linked chromophilic areas like India and Africa, but also because “color achieved greater conquests than European-instigated violence during the preceding four centuries of the slave trade. The first European slavers, the Portuguese in the fifteenth century, quickly learned that to get slaves they had to trade for slaves with African chiefs and kings, not kidnap them, and they conducted this trade with colored fabrics in lieu of violence.” Ironically, many of these slaves were then put to work in the colonies cultivating plants like indigo, that yielded dyes whose monetary values sometimes surpassed that of sugar.