Tuesday, February 24, 2015

There Goes the Neighborhood

"Always remember, young Strix", my grandpappy used to say as he bounced me on his knee, "it's no coincidence that 'semiotics' and 'emoticons' are damn near anagrams." Wise words, indeed:

But with new edition, emoji commentators (myself included) asked: Where are the emoji for people of color? For while there were hundreds of emoji, and more than 100 different representations of human bodies or faces, nearly all were white or a “neutral” yellow. Only two—an apparent East Asian boy, and an apparent South Asian man—seemed to be people of color. There were no non-white women whatsoever, and no black people.

Then, in November of last year, the Unicode Consortium made a quiet announcement in its draft of the new Unicode standard. Different skin tones would be introduced to the emoji standard through a toggle board: A user could click and hold on an emoji while typing it and a menu would coming up, letting them type it in one of five skin tones. (The tones correspond to the Fitzpatrick scale, a numerical method of categorizing human skin pigmentation.)

“People all over the world want to have emoji that reflect more human diversity, especially for skin tone,” said the draft.

Great. Without the background context consisting of the shared, unconscious assumption of white supremacy, how are my friends and I supposed to communicate with whimsical symbols of basic emotions now?

Now, anyone can make the easy joke about how, even as we speak, sites like Salon, Alternet, Vox and the like are in a race to see who can be the first to publish an article about how white privilege is being able to take for granted one's majority status in a crowded room full of emoji. I, on the other hand, prefer to stalk bigger game. I'm shielding my eyes and looking toward the horizon, anticipating the inevitable article analyzing the phenomenon of white flight from emoji use, dating back to this policy change. For that one, I think we'll need the New Republic, or maybe the Atlantic itself.