Disclaimer: While there are more important issues such as a lack of electricity or running water in the United States, I'm going to focus this post on a problem at the intersection of race and privilege. This post isn't scientific or heavily research based. You've been warned.
Initially, my Indian-American friend pointed it out to me. She just wanted to send an emoji that looked like her. The first time a black friend sent me a 🌚 I laughed. Then, to my embarrassment and shame, I realized why he did that. He had two choices--- a white face and a moon. A moon.
So in 2015 when Apple released its “diverse” emojis, many people of color shouted in glee. Finally, was an option besides yellow or white! The Atlantic captured the excitement in an article titled: “Finally, Emoji People of Color”. But not everyone was excited. Writer Paige Tutt (a person of color), argued that racialized emojis are more problematic because it makes race at the forefront of every conversation and can stir up hard feelings among friends--we are now questioning the racial motivations of others.
Why does this even matter?
Because when we don't see ourselves reflected in the larger society we know we aren't valued. That's why it's crucial to see women in positions of leadership. That's why it matters that TV and movies have actors of all colors, sexual orientations, and religions represented. That's why we needed Barack Obama.
This isn't about being “politically correct". It's about not being a jerk. It's about understanding that the world is comprised of many beautiful differences that help us see something different than our own myopic perspective.
While it's imperfect and still can lead to misrepresentation (👳🏻♂️?!!??), I personally think the more diversity that’s represented in our tech, the better. But I’m a hwhite lady. I always have racial representation even if I don't have gender representation. It’s not my place to evaluate the authenticity of racemojis. But I can and will speak to the problem of white people co-opting emojis that don’t belong to them.
How many white people noticed that besides the yellow characters, the default people were white (and technically still are if you consider the ranking order of the skin tones)? I’d venture to say that not that many white people actually noticed that to begin with (unless someone of color pointed it out). To me this is indicative of the disconnect white people have with ideas of race. Race is for others, not for us. White people tend to talk or think about race if it is juxtaposed next to anything perceived as non-white. For white people, we can chose when we want to talk about race, notice it at all, or just ignore it. Even in 2017, people of color do not have that luxury.
This is why I get so 😣😡 when a white friend sends or posts a non-white emoji. At first I thought I was the only one who noticed this. But then, a simple 👩🏻💻 showed me that the folks at The Atlantic wrote an article called “Why White People Don’t Use White Emoji” which basically says that white people in America experience shame about their race and therefore use any other color besides white. I’m going to try to address some of the nuance here.
First, using a non-white emoji when you’re a white person is appropriation-ish (like when you have no connection to Asia but decorate your house in fetishy way). It also comes across like you’re trying to claim some color in your life to get 😎 points. This can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings and awkwardness.
Second, it’s reinforcing the “right” kind of brown. White people love to be tan because it's the right kind of brown. I am definitely not as white as 👍🏻 and in the summer I'm more of a ✌🏼 but when 🖖🏽 is the next option it's obvious that I'm the first. I think when white people a darker shade of white they are saying “this is my tan”--even if they aren't tan. While it may be “harmless” and make us feel better about ourselves, it's reinforcing society’s norms about what is and isn't the right kind of color. This is yet another example of white privilege in action. I can choose to be tan and therefore reap the benefits (compliment heaven) but a POC can never choose to be white. You don't want to be called Rachel Dolezal now do you?
Third, “woke” white people, just stawp 🙄. I sometimes feel that white people who are trying to be woke think using a brown or black emoji is a sign of solidarity. Of course there's a 🕐 and a 🗺 it's more powerful for you to understand your white privilege and use it for actual good--stand up for a POC on Twitter or attend an event on Immigrant Rights. ️
I get it. At the root of the co-opting of non-white emojis is fear. Some white people are concerned that if you use the white one does that mean you are saying white power? While many emojis can convey multiple meanings raising a ✊🏻 definitely seems like you're saying “white power”.
Let's not forget that how much thought goes into your emoji-sending varies. I categorize responses as 1) this is a general emoji response. 2) a “this emoji is me” response. For example am I generally raising a fist ✊🏻or am I raising BLM fist ✊🏿? Again, this seems to go with the idea that white people get to choose when to talk about their race and when to draw attention to it..which imo is a prime example of privilege. Are you meeting a friend 👩 or a 👩🏾? What about a 👩🏻👩🏼?? in contrast people of color do not get that luxury.
I find it interesting that Europeans don't have any qualms about using the white skin toned emojis 🤷🏻♀️🤷🏻♂️
So what I'm saying is this: Own your whiteness.
If you identify as white and experience white privilege, USE A WHITE EMOJI FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.
See these examples for appropriate uses of your white emojis: