Race has always been a ‘hot button’ and emotionally charged topic in America and it seems to have re-entered the forefront of national conversation with a vengeance in recent years, even invading discussions concerning the casting of comic book movies with mealymouthed frothing by those not keen with ethnic variations on iconic characters. Now Apple has responded to a call for more racially diverse emojis (everyone’s favorite way of expressing themselves online) with promises to rectify the lack of multi-ethnic representation in their selection of tiny expressive symbols.
Joey Parker over at MTV Act went straight to Apple CEO Tim Cook about the lack of diversity in their emojis and received the following response from Katie Cotton, vice president of worldwide corporate communications for Apple:
“Tim forwarded your email to me. We agree with you. Our emoji characters are based on the Unicode standard, which is necessary for them to be displayed properly across many platforms. There needs to be more diversity in the emoji character set, and we have been working closely with the Unicode Consortium in an effort to update the standard.”
To Bernie Hogan, an Oxford University research fellow studying the use of emojis as part of a larger look into how folks represent themselves online, it sounds like a “trivial problem”. However, in talking to the BBC, he didn’t write off the importance of people feeling ethnically represented when it came to what they had available to express themselves.
“Emoji exist first and foremost as a way to augment texts with clear expressive power,” he said. “If they restrict the sort of people who are used in the images it restricts users’ expressive power – people won’t feel that the emoji speak for them.”
Created in Japan, and originally only available there, emojis have spread to worldwide use, even becoming available in Gmail in April of 2009. Despite their origins, the Unicode emoji list (which includes over 800 emojis) only contains two that appear Asian: one is a “man with a turban” and the other is a “man with Gua Pi Mao”, a hat commonly worn in the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912). It does, however, contain emojis depicting a Japanese ogre and Japanese dolls.
Interestingly, both Joey Parker and The Register point to that bastion of internet integrity Miley Cyrus as the initial sounder of the clarion call for emoji reform when she sent this tweet back in 2012, with the tag “#emojiethnicityupdate“:
RT if you think there needs to be an #emojiethnicityupdate
— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) December 19, 2012
DoSomething.org also had a petition calling for an update to emojis that has been updated with “WE WON!”