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 US; China 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


Add yours →

  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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