Black (White/Brown/Not-Yellow) like me…?

I need to ask you a ques­tion, Face­less.

Think back to that last text mes­sage you fired off to your best friend/2AM booty-cal­l/ex-girl­friend with the restrain­ing order/mom; in par­tic­u­lar, think about the lit­tle smi­ley face you added to the end. Did the thought “Oh, how I wish that smi­ley face looked a bit more like me? My skin’s not pas­tel-coloured; I’m more of a mocha/chocolate blend” cross your mind at any point?

No? I think you dis­missed that far too quick­ly; I’ll give you a cou­ple more sec­onds to mull that over. Think hard; this shit’s impor­tant.

Still no, huh? Well then you might be as sur­prised as I was to dis­cov­er that a lot of peo­ple DO care. A LOT. Big cor­po­ra­tions, celebri­ties–this kid--are all pret­ty bent about it. They’ve been apply­ing pres­sure on the Uni­code Con­sor­tium to diver­si­fy the cod­ing for the smi­leys cur­rent­ly avail­able,  in order to rep­re­sent the wide range of peo­ple that use them.

…Peo­ple all over the world want to have emo­ji that reflect more human diver­si­ty, espe­cial­ly for skin tone. The Uni­code emo­ji char­ac­ters for peo­ple and body parts are meant to be gener­ic, yet fol­low­ing the prece­dents set by the orig­i­nal Japan­ese car­ri­er images, they are often shown with a light skin tone…

This has been a hot top­ic of con­ver­sa­tion for some time; I’m not sure how it could have escaped me until now. Clear­ly, I have been liv­ing under a large rock; please for­give my igno­rance. In my defense, there has been quite a bit of human rights atroc­i­ty and glob­al con­flict chat­ter out there in recent months; but this is obvi­ous­ly more wor­thy of dis­cus­sion than any of that. I real­ly have no excuse.

You know what? I might be a lit­tle stoked about the whole thing. If I’m being entire­ly hon­est, every time I see that lemo­ny bas­tard  🙂 star­ing up at me, smil­ing that smug smile and flaunt­ing his yel­low skin in my face,  I die a lit­tle inside before I hit Send… don’t you?

Screw those flax­en-hued big­ots, I say. Move aside, you canary-coloured prick. Diver­si­ty’s com­ing through. PissedOffFor those of you that were with me under that rock and have no idea what I’m ram­bling on about, I’ll bring you up to speed: the world accord­ing to Apple, Miley (yes, that Miley), MTVthis kid again and oth­er public/economic fig­ures have decid­ed that emoti­cons (the name for the lit­tle winky face you added to that mes­sage you fired off last night; I see every­thing, Face­less) have evolved into non-diverse, poten­tial­ly-racist lit­tle beasts — and they want to close the equal­i­ty divide by hav­ing ones cre­at­ed that mim­ic the skin tones of the peo­ple that send them.

Impor­tant stuff, don’t you think?

We’ve been using them for a sur­pris­ing­ly long time, long before the mobile device was even invent­ed. As far back as the 1800’s, pub­li­ca­tions were using emoti­cons to express sim­ple emo­tions; but over time, we’ve evolved them into the big­ot­ed diver­si­ty-bash­ers they’ve become. Thank GOD Apple and Miley and MTV (and of course, this kid) had the where­with­al to act on such a bla­tant social injus­tice, instead of turn­ing their con­sid­er­able (ques­tion­able) celebri­ty and eco­nom­ic clout to some­thing triv­ial like this. Or, even this. Cer­tain­ly not this; too many peo­ple are wast­ing their pre­cious time on that bull­shit already.


If you’re new to my lit­tle vir­tu­al soap­box you may have missed the sar­casm above–it was quite sub­tle, I’ll admit–which you will be (reluc­tant­ly) for­giv­en for. All oth­ers will prob­a­bly have sensed that I may not-so-secret­ly think this is the most ridicu­lous masturbatory/look at me, I’m impor­tant exer­cise we’ve all seen in a while.

…Peo­ple all over the world want to have emo­ji that reflect more human diver­si­ty… 

This is what they’ve been pin­ing for. Diver­si­ty among emo­ji. Alright then. For the sake of argu­ment, let’s assume they’re onto some­thing. Here are some num­bers for you: accord­ing to a study done in 2010, they esti­mat­ed that the aver­age teenag­er in the US alone sent rough­ly 4,000 texts a monthI’d expect that to be a sub­stan­tial­ly high­er num­ber by now. As of 2013, there were rough­ly 320 MILLION cell­phones in ser­vice in the USChi­na has four times that num­ber in cir­cu­la­tion.

That’s a lot of 🙂 ‘s and 🙁 ‘s fly­ing through the air; it makes sense that you’d want some­thing that reflects you and the myr­i­ad of emo­tions you are try­ing to express to the per­son on the oth­er end of the con­ver­sa­tion. Fair point.  And speak­ing for myself, I’m not Big Bird yel­low; maybe I do want to have some­thing that looks more like me.

Let’s take a peek at the pro­posed solu­tion:

Image by Uni­code

The icons above are meant to show the new colour range of peo­ple that Uni­code is propos­ing; I don’t believe their inten­tion is to turn us all into 3‑year-old Alfal­fas (which is great, because out­side of an ill-advised hair­do I sport­ed in the late 80’s–a sto­ry I won’t recount for you here–I’ve nev­er been able to get my hair to do that). The range of colours is meant to rep­re­sent human­i­ty’s colour palate — so every­one should be able to squeeze in there some­where. But none of this will be a quick process; while they’ve pledged to code new ones (more on that in a bit), that process could take years. So what will we do until then?

Don’t pan­ic. These guys have got our backs:

Image by Oju Africa

We actu­al­ly looked at it and said “you know what, there’s actu­al­ly a lack of black smi­lies” — every phone that we looked at had yel­low smi­lies so we said “why can’t we have some smi­lies, or some emoti­cons, that are more rel­e­vant to the peo­ple that we sup­ply to?” — Alpesh Patel, CEO of MiFone and Oju Africa

Oju Africa’s claim to fame is that they beat Apple’s well-fund­ed machine to the punch, cre­at­ing the world’s first Afro­cen­tric emoti­cons. What’s that? You don’t look like Mr. T or an extra from Cool Run­nings? Not to wor­ry.

If you use Skype, you can look like an avenger; if you use an iPhone and hap­pen to love Lil B, you can buy his app and, well, give fur­ther proof to the fact that peo­ple will buy any­thing. A quick search in any of the mobile app stores will uncov­er 100’s of pos­si­ble options to let Emoti­con Fever take you away.

Prob­lem is, those aren’t tru­ly emoti­cons. They are either apps that have their own designed icons or devices with their own cus­tom emo­ji, most of which that can only be viewed if the receiv­er has the same app or device. Uni­code gov­erns the way text and these trou­ble­some amber demons dis­play on any device in any lan­guage; and it’s that uni­for­mi­ty that will take years to get right as they work with hard­ware and soft­ware mak­ers around the globe (iron­i­cal­ly, Apple is part of the Uni­corn Con­sor­tium… Guess it took MTV and Miley to point it out to them).

The fact that these sil­ly lit­tle char­ac­ters that have drawn such ire were NEVER meant to resem­ble peo­ple seems to have been lost some­where. But back to play­ing the Advo­cate for a minute: why should­n’t we have diver­si­ty among some­thing so inte­gral to our dai­ly lives? How many you’re fired/I’m mak­ing poor life choic­es texts have been launched into the uni­verse, lack­ing an emoti­con that prop­er­ly reflect­ed both the per­son send­ing it or the emo­tions they may have been feel­ing? Tril­lions, prob­a­bly. And make no mis­take, I’m all for diver­si­ty and equal­i­ty; I get the need to feel rep­re­sent­ed in a world that does­n’t resem­ble you at all some­times, believe me.

But where do you draw the line with this? Will Uni­code draft guide­lines for emoti­cons with acne? Will they design fat, triple-chinned or anorex­ic ones? Ones with snake tat­toos or ear and lip spac­ers? One with a glass eye/missing an eye/a wan­der­ing eye? How about a cleft lip? Down’s Syn­drome? Het­e­rochro­mia? Will there be ones wear­ing a Yama­ka, a Burqa, a Klan hood or a strain­er? Heav­i­ly-botoxed ones with thick duck lips? And who’s going to enforce the way we use them? Aren’t there enough issues with the poten­tial mis­use of Inter­net com­mu­nic­tions to con­tend with?

I know the con­ver­sa­tion has been cen­tered on eth­nic diver­si­ty, but you need to take all of the above into con­sid­er­a­tion as well, don’t you? When you replace the neu­tral with some­thing poten­tial­ly polar­iz­ing in the quest for equal­i­ty–if you swap out the androg­y­nous for some­thing far more iden­ti­fi­able–those things should be seen as impor­tant, too. They’re just as valid points in the dis­cus­sion of diver­si­ty as the colour of our skin; our weight, beliefs and appear­ance do just as much to define us. But as seems to be the way with us as a soci­ety, the hard­er we try to cater for the needs of some is the fur­ther we tend to iso­late every­one else, which is kin­da how we got into this “mess” in the first place. Hope­ful­ly, we don’t turn this make-believe cri­sis into some­thing we real­ly could (and should) be offend­ed by.

Maybe we should just roll back all of the vari­a­tions and remem­ber what they were meant to rep­re­sent: a basic emo­tion. I’m hap­py ( 🙂 ), I’m sad ( 🙁 ), I don’t know whose apart­ment this is, can’t find my shoes and am late for work again ( 😕 ). For those moments you real­ly need to express your­self with some­thing more mean­ing­ful, you may be sur­prised to learn that the device in your hand already has an answer for that.

(Hint: you can make calls with that thing, too… It even has a cam­era. I’ll let you fig­ure out the rest.)

Lat­er Face­less.  Bye


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  1. If this is all the pam­pered west has to wor­ry about it is doomed! These peo­ple aren’t after secu­ri­ty in the sense that Gib­bon talks about it in rela­tion to Athe­ni­ans but nonethe­less it’s a form of safe­ty or secu­ri­ty for their feel­ings they seem to be chas­ing. I’m not yel­low, nev­er have been, except when I was cov­ered in Bro­mide for lung surgery, and I’m not offend­ed. And if I was well, you know my opin­ions on that, I will fight to the death for your right to offend me!

    Edward Gib­bon “In the end, more than free­dom, they want­ed secu­ri­ty. They want­ed a com­fort­able life, and they lost it all – secu­ri­ty, com­fort, and free­dom. When the Athe­ni­ans final­ly want­ed not to give to soci­ety but for soci­ety to give to them, when the free­dom they wished for most was free­dom from respon­si­bil­i­ty, then Athens ceased to be free and was nev­er free again.”

    • Agreed: if we as a soci­ety have noth­ing bet­ter to con­cern our­selves with than “is this emoti­con the right shade of Mia­mi tan to rep­re­sent me prop­er­ly in those drunk texts I send out reg­u­lar­ly?”, then life’s pret­ty sweet. Sad­ly, we know that’s not real­ly the case, now is it.

      And here here, Face­less — thanks for read­ing! (insert eth­ni­cal­ly-sen­si­tive smi­ley here… or don’t)

  2. I was so relieved when I got to the bot­tom and heard the voice of rea­son. Seri­ous­ly? Peo­ple are starv­ing, war is rag­ing, mur­der is com­mon­place is the US. Not to men­tion gun con­trol, keep­ing our chil­dren safe from scary peo­ple and deal­ing with bul­lies (cyber and real life). Oh, and let’s not for­get, the fight to cure can­cer and every oth­er dis­ease out there wreak­ing hav­oc on peo­ple’s lives.…and THIS IS WHAT PEOPLE ARE ON ABOUT??? Wow. Def­i­nite­ly a sad com­men­tary on where our resources should be allo­cat­ed. I’m white, not yel­low or brown and it nev­er even dawned on me that emoti­cons should be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of race and gen­der. They are called EMOTICONS — emo­tions. They are objects designed to per­son­al­ize your emails and texts so that the com­mu­ni­ca­tion is clear­er. Shock­ing i know, but some com­mu­ni­ca­tions’ intent often gets lost in trans­la­tion.

Whatcha thinking, Faceless? Share those feelings.

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