Why the West is Afraid of Color

The colorful (and enraging) history of how neutrals and monochrome became the preferred Western aesthetic.

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(Illustration by Karuna Gangwani, with image from Travis Wise)

Ishani Nath


October 12, 2022


7 min

“Oh, I just love your celebrations. They’re so colorful!” This is the reaction I’ve heard for years from non-South Asians referring to everything from wedding celebrations to cultural and religious festivals — and no, it’s not exclusive to Holi. That’s not to say it’s untrue, but these comments had an ick factor, leaving me with a feeling that “colorful” was code for “exotic.”

The rise of neutrals — think white walls, plain shelving, and grey furniture — recently became a heated topic of conversation TikTok, stemming from an article claiming that “color has been disappearing from the world.” The author cited data showing that everyday objects have become less colorful and greyer. Drivers have a growing preference for white or black cars. Even carpets have lost their color, with beige being the most popular tone, followed by grey and brown.

But some users, including Mehta, noted that the appeal of neutrals goes deeper. In fact, according to some experts, the West has a history of resisting — and even fearing — color.

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