Anyone who texts me regularly knows that I have a penchant for Emojis. I think they are a brilliant feature of the iPhone and I regularly use them in the course of text conversations, with more or less relevance: the coffee cup symbol is gets a lot of play at the end of a “Want to get” ? text to great effect, but sometimes I like to give the less obvious Emojis a little use– the eggplant is a personal favorite.
However, there is a striking feature of the Emojis that tempers my passion for them: they are extremely white. Many people praised the update to Emojis that went along with the iPhone iOS 6 update a few months ago for adding same-sex couples to its list of images, where previously the only couple had been hetero (except for the two dancing blondes in cat outfits, an oft-used, albeit befuddling, icon). Obviously, that is a much-needed correction. But people who expected to see more racial diversity in Emojis were disappointed. Among the human images, there are only Caucasians.
Well, almost. Out of over 40 Emojis featuring human images, two are clearly non-Caucasian. And, most importantly, they are not generic human images the way the majority of the others are. One is a dark-skinned man in a turban, and the other an Asian man in a red and green ‘Oriental’ hat. Both of these images are highly stylized portrayals of non-Caucasian people, and thus serve to worsen the already problematic ethnocentrism of the ‘generic’ white Emojis. Next to these two icons are three other men in hats, all Caucasian: one a police officer, one apparently a construction worker, and the third what appears to be a Russian in an Ushanka hat. The first two of these are clearly hats that pertain to a career rather than a race. Way to promote the idea that the white man is the one who can “wear many hats,” who is neutral except for when donning a cap for a specific job, while the dark-skinned or Asian man is always marked by wearing a certain “hat”– is not neutral, but always already belonging to a race that relegates him to a certain specificity. The Asian and the dark-skinned man appear only in their headpieces. The white man might wear a hat for a job, but has the freedom to take this off at any moment. There are no non-white individuals unmarked by a stylized headpiece; no non-white females; and no non-white people holding hands with a partner (neither another non-white nor white person) or doing some other activity. Isn’t this weird?
On the other side of things, there is the cherub Emoji and the princess Emoji (see image 2 above). Both are not only white, but blonde. 100% Aryan– as all cherubic and royal people are, right? In fact, there is only one blonde female Emoji, and she is the princess wearing a crown. (Which causes problems for me, as a blonde female, when I want to depict myself in Emoji form but don’t want to intimate that I’m royalty. #problemsthatarenotreallyproblems)
There are over 60 animal Emojis. There is a blue whale Emoji, an alligator Emoji, and a puffer fish Emoji. Hell, there are three baby chick Emojis, and two dragons! (And, interestingly, tons of images of food, many of which are of Japanese food– this is, after all, where the iPhone Emojis originated). And not even one non-Caucasian person not wearing a marginalizing headpiece?? Get it together, people. Sure, Emojis are just silly images people with smartphones use while texting. But racism is racism, and it is perfidious wherever it may appear. After all, some of us use these every day.