You’ve seen hundreds of different flags in your life. Some of them have an intriguing multi-colored design, but some of the most intense sport just one color.
Are one-color flags the products of lazy designers? Or is there a startling, deeper reason about what the flag means?
Let’s take a look and see…
White flags and their meanings
A color of peace and purity. Wedding dresses, for instance, are often white.
- Soldiers use the white flag to surrender. The weaker army may raise a white flag to request negotiations. The rules of war strictly forbid firing at people waving a white flag.
- Ancient historians say Chinese and Roman soldiers independently started using the white flag as a sign of surrender in the 1st century A.D.
- White is easily noticeable against most natural backgrounds and it contrasts with the multicolored banners armies often carry into combat.
- Chinese soldiers also chose white as a means of giving up to a stronger opponent – oddly enough, though, white is a symbol of sadness, mourning, and death for the Chinese. The implication, then, is not to ask for “peace,” but to be humiliated at defeat.
- The white flag is also used in racing. In races sanctioned by FIA, it means there is a slow car ahead, while in NASCAR and other races it symbolizes a final lap.
How can a color represent peace in one culture and death in another? Maybe there’s a deeper philosophical point at stake.
Green flags and their meanings
Green is a color of nature, balance, and harmony.
- Environmental organizations love green. They associate the color with the Earth, fertility, and agriculture.
- Green is the color of Islam. It is believed that green was the color most pleasing to the founder of the religion and that green clothing will be worn in the afterlife.
- Libya used a completely green flag during the reign of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (1977-2011). He chose the color to represent his political ideology.
- In Britain, the green flag is a popular symbol (and company) for roadside assistance
Environmentally, the color has taken on huge significance. Products are sometimes categorized according to how “green” they are.
Red flags and their meanings
An intense color with multiple meanings, red represents blood, courage, hardiness and valor. Red is also considered the color of love!
- The slaves in ancient Rome used a red flag in their rebellions as a reminder that battle is the only way out.
- Cities and castle across England raised red flags to express defiance to the Crown during the Middle Ages.
- In France, red was the symbol of the royalists until the French Revolution. Jacobins then inverted the symbolism to honor the blood of people killed in the protests.
- The Paris Commune used it as an official symbol of their revolutionary government in 1871. It was the first time the red flag was associated with communism.
Today, the official flags of China and Vietnam are explicitly based on the original red communist symbol. And everybody knows the official color for Valentine’s Day…
Black flags and their meanings
Black is associated with mystery and secrecy. In many cultures, it is the symbol of grief.
- A completely black flag was first used in the 17th century by Buccaneers, the pirates operating in the Caribbean Sea. If they raised it during the attack on a ship, it signified an offer to spare the crew’s lives.
- Pirates started using Jolly Roger, the famous black flag with skull and crossbones, in the 18th century. They would sail in concealment under a false flag (or no flag), then hoist the pirate flag when ready to attack.
- Anarchist historian George Woodcock claims that the first time the black flag was used as an anarchist symbol was in 1883 in France. The white flag means surrender, so anarchists chose black to symbolize defiance.
Contrary to China, where white symbolizes mourning. Western countries tend to associate black with funerals and other solemn occasions.
Spotlight on One-Color Flags – Wrapping It Up
Flags are everywhere, but we seldom stop to evaluate them. Once you think a little about the psychology of flags, though, they become considerably more fascinating.
Can you think of other one-color flags? Maybe a blue one? We used the matching color system chart from The Flagmakers to conjure up all sorts of designs.
Flags aren’t only flamboyant… they’re mysterious.
Look and see.
Author Abel Cane loves flags and the stories behind them. Catch up with Abel on Twitter @boomalive.