If you spend a decent amount of time on the internet, chances are you've heard people raising hell because there are no African-American Emoji icons. Diversity-minded texters are now actually trying to do something about the emoticon racism problem, by petitioning Apple to add more people of color to its Emoji keyboard.
"If these Emoji are going to be the texting and Twitter standard, we think it’d be cool if they better reflected the diversity of the people using them," argues a petition currently up on DoSomething.org, spotted by Fast Company.
The petition laments that out of 800 emoticons, the only two person icons that aren't white: a guy who looks "vaguely Asian" and another wearing a turban. Meanwhile, it points out, there are two different camels, a smiling pile of poo, and a cop, bride, grandma and dancer, all white. But zero black people.
With the iOS7 update coming this fall, the petition owners are calling on Apple to include at least four dark-skinned faces—a man, woman, boy, and a girl. They even helpfully offer an example of what they might look like.
Granted, Apple doesn't own Emoji. The cute little icons originated in Japan (which doesn't have a huge black population) and for a time were only available there. Then in 2010, hundreds of Emoji were added to the Unicode Standard, making them available in the US and other countries, and soon afterward Apple made its version, iEmoji, available on iOS. Apple added icons and color to the iPhone's Emoji selection. Just not enough color.
Outrage over homogenous emoji has been building for more than a year now. Last December, Miley Cyrus made headlines for jumping on the emoji equality bandwagon, briefly, taking to Twitter to call for an ethnicity update to the emoticons.
RT if you think there needs to be an #emojiethnicityupdate— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) December 19, 2012
A couple month's after that, during Black History Month, Twitter and Instagram were again aflame with impassioned pleas for icon diversity. This April, the @BlackPeopleEmoji Twitter account sprang up—though it seems to mostly tweet questionably racist things, and then question if they're racist.
Is this racist— Black People Emoji (@BlckPeopleEmoji) April 19, 2013
When iOS6 came out, last June, Apple added the first gay and lesbian couples to its emoji palette. Considering the social media firestorm over racist Emoji up until that point, it does seem strange that Apple didn't take that moment of cultural diversity to add some black people, too.
Yet the controversy grew. Last month, a blog post on Immigration Talk suggested the lack of black Emoji illustrates the extent to which systemic racism and social hierarchy can rear its ugly head in society, even in the smallest and most seemingly trite ways:
Some white emojis, such as the image of the police officer, appear to hold positions of power, emphasizing the idea that minorities do not commonly occupy skilled jobs like these. In addition, the blonde princess represents that only pure and royal whites can obtain power. In fact, I am surprised that they do not have a white king. The white angel also shows white purity, while an image of white hands held up in a prayer position implies that religion or Catholicism is a white concept. In addition, the absence of non-white females demonstrates a lack of awareness of the intersectionality between race and gender in society.
Sociopolitical implications aside, it does seem like a no-brainer that here in the US—the world's melting pot, where nearly a third of the country is non-white, and more than 13 percent is African American—our modes of cybercommunication should accurately reflect the population. In fact, while we're at it, can we get some Latino emoji in there?
So far, the Do Something petition is 1,768 signatures of the way toward the 10,000 goal. If so inclined, you can add yours here. "We’ll deliver your signatures to Apple," the petition owners write. "Possibly on the backs of two different camels."