Emojis and My Race? I want to pace…
I don’t know about racial emojis, but I have a big frowny face for Blackface.
A few months ago, a friend and I were discussing emojis and race. It was a conversation in passing. And, I’m sure my response was how I still needed to think about emojis.
I now realize emojis have been around since 1999, I should’ve been thinking about them earlier. The word itself comes from Japanese words that mean picture and character.
We know emojis are a form of expression. Emojis give us a way to personalize our messages. They add texture to text and humanize us in writing.
Emojis are reactions and they give people a view to our feelings. We use emojis to relieve the tension and to inject humor. And, let’s be honest, for some of us that’s a desperate need.
Emojis aren’t just faces. They are hands, groups of people, and even objects. With a list of over 2,600 emojis, they seem infinite and evolving.
Emojis are sort of like us. And like us, emojis aren’t perfect. They don’t always communicate or translate the best. Emojis are like art and artists, they can be misunderstood.
But emojis are a sort of symbolic language that mirrors our world.
So, of course, for some of us, emojis that look like us are important. People should be able to use emojis that best reflect them. There’s no reason to return to the days of colon smiley faces like this :-). Sure, I still use that one too. But, we don’t need to limit ourselves, right?
When I think about emojis and race, I’m not sure about all the implications.
On some messaging services, you can select a brown hand to give a thumbs up.
Developers have also created apps with Black emojis. Some of those apps cost money or have add-on features. And some of the apps on the market look like scary snapshots of the most offensive characterizations. A few of those app developers should not be allowed to represent Black people.
But, not all of the Black emoji apps are bad. With the Black emoji apps, you can select a gender, face, clothing, and a hairstyle.
One app reviewer wrote, “Thank You, Finally Emoji Icon that resembles ME!”
Like toys, dolls, and cartoon characters, I imagine “like me” emojis may have a positive impact on children.
We need that impact and we need to feel that impact. The world has this bad impression that Black people don’t feel pain. There’s a gap in empathy for Blackness. The fact that Black people are here and we feel everything is still a notable note to the masses.
So, emojis are a profile and visibility issue. Maybe the world would feel better about Blackness, including Black people, if the range of emotions were seen through Black Emojis.
I’m not saying Black emojis are superheroes to save the world, but as a Black person, I love the options. But, I don’t want anyone to have stereotypical, exaggerated, wrong, and racist options for Black emojis. The mainstream media and Hollywood already work overtime to produce those poisoned pictures and characters.
For me, the Black Emoji app feels like a workaround for what should be easier. I hate how the Black and brown options are always “hide and seek” and “expect to pay more.”
When I use the messaging service WhatsApp, I have the option of a brown hand. And, I always select the brown option, for my hands. I don’t feel the yellow hand, it’s numb, and the yellow hand doesn’t feel like me. I communicate with brown hands. So, I want these brown fingers to reach out and touch down on brown.
Before there were options, I always felt that way about the emojis. I felt slightly left out, and the options were inadequate.
So, given options, I choose the brown and Black ones. But, I change from place to place because the platforms are not consistent. So, sometimes I’m brown, and sometimes I’m not.
As you can tell, the idea and use of emojis in living color is loaded.
Apparently, human faces with hues have been a thing in emojis since 2015. That seems a little late to me, and I have all sorts of questions that come up with emojis.
Like — is there anything wrong with a white person who uses a Black emoji?
NPR’s Code Switch, just tackled this question posed by a parent who said her white child was using Black emojis.
I’d say yes… there are problems to probe in that selection. And, I’d say, don’t select emojis that don’t match you. When white fingers press down on the Black emojis, I become depressed a little. I see appendages of appropriation in action.
But apparently, most white people don’t care and don’t bother.
One guy did his own review and found that white people, given the choice of skin tones, usually choose the default yellow. White people do not select the white emojis.
And now I’m wondering what does that mean? Does that mean race isn’t salient for white people? Is that a way that white people deny race? Does that mean white people see themselves as the default? Is this true for the white nationalist too?
I wish we could make emojis truer to life. Well, maybe they already are and we have to fix life? I can only imagine how the future of emojis will smile or frown upon us?
Right now, there are apps to make custom emojis with a photo. But again, that feels like an extra step to compensate for a need. It would be much easier if custom emojis were available without an extra download.
What if people could only select from pre-made racial emojis and not the yellow ones? And what if the races were in alphabetical order?
Or, what if you could pre-select the emojis for your phone like a language?
But, wait, given the implicit bias for whiteness in the world, do we really want people to actively and consciously choose whiteness? I guess they do anyway.
I just wish emojis worked and were a better fit.
Emojis can be complicated because we are. Race is our social construct. It rebuilds itself into everything we do. So, it’s no surprise, the tech world has bias, like every industry.
We don’t need more business executives like those at Dove and H&M. We need more people of color to interfere with every attempt to blackout conference rooms and boardrooms.
Does anyone trust the tech world to innovate without bias? When bias is a basis… they will invent new forms of bias to factory install. I’m afraid of what will happen if the tech world continues to advance with biases baked into every batch.
I don’t want any upgrades that deny or downgrade me.
So, I race to raise the race questions, that I hope they have in mind. The tech world churns out products with new features every day. And yet, I need concern and care for my existing features.
But, I don’t want “digital Blackface.”
The blacker emoji with euro hair doesn’t cut it for me. I can’t even say it’s the thought that counts. I don’t just want a thought. I especially don’t want to be an afterthought or a second thought.
I want thinking. I want ongoing thoughts.
As you can see, I’m not entirely sure what I think about emojis and the emoji makers. But, I am sure of one thing — they all better think of me.