Black and White : Approach Zebras with Caution

Black and White Zebras

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is Z Black and White: Approach Zebras with Caution.

What do zebras have to do with creativity?

Not much, but avoiding them has a lot to do with being more creative, more responsibly. To introduce this topic, I am going to give you a very brief overview of basic theories of color psychology.

In color psychology, each color is thought to have a certain effect on people. This is often taken into consideration when walls are painted and decorating is done, especially in institutional settings, such as schools, businesses, and hospitals. It is even more meaningful when branding a business and coming up with a marketing campaign. We won’t be talking about that specifically, but I mention it because if advertising takes color psychology seriously, then there is something to it. That’s why they paid the big bucks (and they sure do)!

Here are some of the theoretical ideas about color associations as well as an example of the word used in a way that corresponds with color psychology theory.


The color red is associated with love—but also hate. Really, the idea is a passion in one direction or the other. There is nothing lukewarm about the color red. It is an attention-grabbing color, so it is used whenever that’s the goal. This is why stop signs and fire extinguishers are red. It’s also a color considered inappropriate for attendees to wear at weddings and funerals in the United States. After all, it is rude to steal the attention at a wedding, and funerals are generally solemn occasions.

Word usage: “He saw red.” This means he was furious.


Yellow is thought of as a happy color. It’s the color of sunshine, and like the sun, tends to energize people. There are some negative things about this color, though. It is best not to paint the room where you eat, yellow, since it can increase nausea in some people. Babies are also said to cry more in yellow rooms, so avoid this in the nursery.

Word usage: “What? Are you yellow?” This is an accusation of cowardice.

Orange is not black and white


Orange is a color that brings out strong feelings. People either love the color orange or they hate it. This may be why federal inmates can often be seen sporting orange jumpsuits. It’s not all bad. Orange is also thought to enhance creativity. In many cultures, it is a very spiritual color, worn by Tibetan monks. It is highly regarded by the Sikh tradition, which views it as representing courage and wisdom.

Word usage: This color gives the fruit of the same color its name—or is it the other way around?


The color blue is considered a calming color by many people. It is often used to represent fidelity, freedom, and faith. Blue is thought to suppress appetite. In Iran, blue is the color of mourning. It is nautical and royal (as in royal blue and blueblood).  It can also be used to describe feelings of melancholy.

Word usage: “I’ve got the blues.” This means I’m depressed.


Purple is also associated with Royalty. In ancient times, purple cloth was an extravagant thing because the dye was so costly. Queen Elizabeth I forbade anyone other than close members of the royal family to wear it. Because of the connection to this color, it also came to symbolize magic.

No word usage

Black and White

Scientifically speaking, black and white aren’t actual colors. Black actually absorbs all color within the spectrum while white reflects them.  Even with this being the case, in practical terms, black and white are both thought of as colors. We speak of them as colors and psychologically, they affect us with connotations and biases like any other color, so I will include them in this post. After all, zebras are black and white.

Word usage: “Not everything is black and white.” This means that not everything is one extreme or the other, clearly defined.


Black is also associated with power—of a darker nature (no pun intended). This is a color that is almost exclusively thought of in negative terms: blackballed, Black Death, blackout, etc. It is a symbol of death and grief, and so is worn to funerals, traditionally. The rare occasions it is thought of in a positive light is when trying to find a slimming outfit or when looking for the best sale of the year (Black Friday).

Word usage: “He was blackballed.”  He was voted out (or excluded from membership).


White is thought of as light. It’s the color that symbolizes purity and innocence. Within Christianity, people are often baptized in the color white. In the United States, modern day brides often wear white during their wedding ceremony.

Word usage: “It was only a white lie.” When the word “white” is used to describe a lie, the speaker is minimizing the negative aspects of lying.

What does this have to do with creativity?

Three things:

  1. It’s just plain interesting to think about the effect colors have on us. While some of the effects are genuine and perhaps universal, to a greater degree, these ideas and attitudes toward various colors as well as black and white are cultural and societal. That brings us to the 2nd point (and perhaps the more important one).
  2. Use care when using words and images that might have connotations to them that could be hurtful. I’m not saying that you should candy coat everything. But, be aware of how what you write, or otherwise create, artistically will affect others. What type of response are you trying to elicit? You should know that if what you write is insensitive or inflammatory, that is the response you are likely going to get—only to a greater degree than you dispensed it, initially.
  3. We need to avoid black and white in our creative endeavors. And when we do decide we are going to paint with broad strokes, we first need to examine what we are putting out in the world with great care. What do I mean by this?

Black and white

Don’t expect—or desire, everyone else to be a reflection of you

If that’s what you want, then you don’t really want to create. You want to walk around looking into a mirror. Does this mean you can’t have opinions, values, and strongly held beliefs? No. You should have these things. But you should also be willing to meet other people who aren’t like you, people who may actually be very different from you and get to know them as fellow human beings rather than a caricature.

If you want to be more creative

Be brave enough to look at things from a variety of angles in order to find the one you truly want to use in your writing, art, music or other creative work. By taking the time to do this, you might find a perspective that is better than you had originally envisioned, both ideologically and creatively.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.



Featured image of Zebras in Botswana By Taken & submitted by Paul Maritz (Paulmaz Modified by Pharaoh Hound, Fir0002 , via Wikimedia Commons

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18 comments on “Black and White : Approach Zebras with Caution

Every single post in your A-Z series has been well-written, interesting, and either thought-provoking or inspiring or both. Congratulations, Heather.

It has been such a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to continuing to read your posts and chat with you for many years to come.

Thank you, Karen. I have enjoyed joining your tribe at Profound Journey, as well. I think meeting other writers such as yourself whom I really respect and enjoy reading is one of the best parts of A to Z. I am glad you liked this post. 🙂

An addendum, Heather. I was so focused on our completion of the challenge that I neglected to say a single word about this post. The colour psychology wasn’t new to me although it is very well summarized. What was new, and very creative and clever, was your three-part explanation of what colour psychology has to do with creativity. Quite brilliant, Heather. Thank you.

Wonderful post about colors. I’d forgotten most of these.

I like the zebras and thought your tie-in to creativity would be along the lines of “pounding of hooves isn’t always zebras”–I think I’m showing my thriller roots!

Hi Jacqui. Ooh, that’s good! I might have to save that for next year’s A to Z. Did you know that you were the blogger who inspired me to do the A to Z challenge last year? I loved it so much. I got hooked!. Thank you for your fantastic blog and for your encouragement.

The color orange was named after the fruit.

The colors also represent different chakras–when you’re talking New Agey energy stuff. This is useful to know when using colors and writing magic.

Hi Liz. I hadn’t thought about that, before. Most of the things I write are so grounded in reality. It’s amazing the variety of things one can write about. In India, they loved it when I wore orange, so much so that I avoided it. It was sort of eerie.

I need to surround myself with more yellow. Maybe I won’t feel so fatigued that way.

Congrats on beating the challenge.

Hi Patricia. Maybe that’s what I need to do. Congratulations to you, too!

interesting segue way there from z zebra to colour creativity – quite a lot there for me to chew on. colours are such an integral part of us in our worlds – I love playing with them in what I wear – I have odd coloured walls in this house where I have played around with paint and brush. there is much here about sensitivity to others that I need to take on board – thank you heather

Hi Sandra. Colors are such a fantastic way to express our feelings and stretch our creative wings. As you say, there are so many places to use color as you like. How fun that even your walls are a part of that.

Congratulations on completing the challenge! I really enjoyed your posts 🙂 And this color list is a perfect ending for the series. And now I’m wondering what it means that my favorite color is yellow…
Happy A to Z, and see you in Reflections! 🙂

The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales

Thank you, Tarkabarka. Congratulations to you, too. I loved reading your folktales this month. They were fun and enlightening. My kids enjoyed them, too!

Interesting post. I find colour theory fascinating. I did an A-Z of colours for a previous challenge and it was really fun doing the research. I thought of a word use for purple: purple prose. I agree that to be more creative we should avoid the black and white and try to see the whole spectrum.

Hi Tizzy. You have written some interesting A to Zs! I like that phrase: “purple prose.”

I’ve always loved colors, and what they invoke.
Once I was told that red and yellow put together in a logo make people think of “delicious” – hence so many fast food places had those colors in their logo. But now, I’m seeing a shift. It seems red and yellow no longer denote what they used to, and blues and greens are being utilized more in the food industry.

Hi Jen, That makes sense for people who are trying to eat healthily (or at least in a way that is perceived as healthy). Have a great week!

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