Editorial: Black suits us, let's show the world

By Annemarie Quill


Black is cool. Never out of fashion, it is the epitome of chic. Ask Coco Chanel, Donatella Versace, Anna Wintour or Grace Coddington.

Black is bad-ass. Think The Matrix's Agent Smith, Darth Vader and the Big Bad Wolf.

Powerful and intellectual like Steve Jobs' black turtleneck. Very rock and roll - from AC/DC's Back in Black to the original man in black, Johnny Cash. Avril Lavigne got married in it.

Lorde, our very own black uber-star, is creating a style storm in funereal dresses and dipped tar nails. And of course the ultimate men in black, the All Blacks, are revered worldwide in sporting and non-sporting circles.

Dignified, sophisticated, dramatic - a fitting colour for this small country at the bottom of the planet that the rest of the world seems to hold in high regard.

From the All Blacks' jersey to the black singlet, New Zealand has embraced the dark side.

It is New Zealand's colour. It has become our brand. Doris de Pont, in her book Black: History of Black in Fashion, Society and Culture in New Zealand, says it is the colour in which New Zealand chooses to represent itself to the world - not just the All Blacks, Tall Blacks and Silver Ferns, but in our cultural icons and in the collections of our fashion designers.

Black, with a silver fern, is John Key's flag of choice for New Zealand, he declared this week.

His signal that a referendum on the flag may be on the cards this election year has again fuelled debate on whether it is time to change the flag and, if so, to what.

Key's timing on the flag debate has been criticised by some as political manoeuvering. Some see it as a ploy to deflect public attention from other issues.

Helen Knight posts on the Bay of Plenty Times Facebook page, "there are more important issues in this country than what our flag looks like, educations [sic], feeding the poor, looking after the sick and so on." Poster Nikita Martin feels the money could be better spent "ta gt us more jobs by building more business."

But what could be more crucial for New Zealand's future prosperity than cementing our brand? Image is everything in business and commerce, tourism and trade.

Some criticise the black and silver fern as not worthy of national flag status, being a sporting emblem.

True, black first became known as our national colour when our sports teams wore black at the 1920 Olympics. Yet it quickly came to symbolise more than that as De Pont writes, our "passion for team sports exemplified the co-operative spirit and the country's egalitarian aspirations".

Others are cautious about changing the existing flag. Karen Mcmahon on the Bay of Plenty Times Facebook page points out that "people died wt war to defend that flag [sic]". Sylvia Dovaston posts "a country's flag is sacred."

It is a vital consideration, especially as we approach the centenary of World War I.

Yet on this issue I find myself - for once - in agreement with Murray Guy who says, "It is time for a change that better reflects who we are as a culturally diverse nation of Kiwi in 2014. The family members of mine fought for, not the flag, but what it stood for, what it represented - that will not change any more than I do when I change my clothes."

The silver fern on black represents a national pride that transcends the military and the political. It is something all cultures in New Zealand can relate to. It is classless.

I grew up in Irish Catholic Liverpool at a time when flags were divisive, even dangerous. Many Irish choose the shamrock as their symbol for national and sporting pride as it cuts through the politics. Similarly, when football World Cup fever takes over England, the people prefer to sing about lions on shirts rather than St George. The silver fern on black would be similarly peaceful, but no less dramatic or proud.

Some say a black flag would be 'too pirate'. I even like that connotation of our flag - in the best senses of pirate. New Zealand is a country that is unique. Like its brooding and beautiful landscapes, it is sometimes non-conforming. A country that is independent, and not afraid to stand up for itself, would stand out in the world with a black and silver flag.

From Johnny Depp to Assassin's Creed - black flags are cool. This is not just about fashion. If New Zealand is perceived by the world as something to buy into, to invest in, to buy from and visit, then initiating the debate on the black flag is not only right but essential.

It has the long-term potential to bring the people of this country more prosperity than, say, Cunliffe's "cash for babies" scheme - a grey policy that would take us back in the red, depressingly reinforcing New Zealand's Achilles' heel: welfare dependency.

The country is back in the black. What better time to capitalise on the world's recognition of our 'blackness' than when the All Blacks hold the Rugby World Cup and Lorde is holding two Grammys?

New Zealand's silver fern on black is a brand with global recognition and respect, right up there in my view, with Nike, Coca-Cola and Guinness.

Black is our trademark. Our potential. That is something to wave the flag about. Let's have the referendum.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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