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I was at a data visualization workshop a few days ago and someone there asked if there are any symbols/colours that might offend people when making charts, the presenter didn't really understand the answer so I helped to explain how in cartography using certain colours to represent certain groups could offend.

For example using yellow to represent East Asian's, Red to represent Native Americans, or Red to represent basically any minority (since red has a connotation of being negative/bad/dangerous)

The only symbols I can think of that have negative connotations are yellow six pointed stars to identify Jewish people, and pink triangles to identify gay people as these were used in Nazi Germany.

I realized I only ever learned this from working with other researchers and was wondering if there is some comprehensive list out there for these types of colours/symbols.

  • I am going to vote to keep this open, because the asker has requested learning whether a specific list exists. If it turns into a shopping list Q&A where multiple Answers are given that are just more and more examples rather than an existing list (as asked for) then I will seek closure instead. – PolyGeo Apr 4 '14 at 23:48
  • I don't know of a list but it is worth doing a "search by image" on Google if you are worried about a particular symbol. This will show you similar symbols and identify things that may be risky. It is easy to use symbols by accident. For example the cross in a circle symbol has been used by Neo-nazi groups. – Matthew Snape May 10 '14 at 11:24
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I do not think you are likely to find such a comprehensive list, as it would be entirely contextual or opinion based. For example, some words that are entirely commonplace in one language either are or are indistinguishable from extremely offensive words in another. A color association that is negative in one culture may be positive in another. Take your example of red; in some Native American cultures there are positive/sacred associations vs the 'international' danger/negative. It is only the stereotype or derogatory term of 'redskin' that is negative and not the color itself. The same could be said of symbols such as the Star of David.

It is a valid point and concern, one I even remember coming up in my cartography class. However, because almost all color/symbology is going to be at least partly contextually or culturally based, I don't believe you'll find a list that covers every possible scenario.

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