Why the new racially diverse emojis seriously matter
Everyone loves emojis, right? The tiny cartoon images are a fun, addictive, and contagiously silly way to communicate. In fact, I know more than a few people who would exclusively communicate via emojis if it were socially acceptable. Emojis let you get creative and weird with your conversations, and while I’m all for words (obviously), sometimes one emoji is worth one thousand autocorrects. Emojis are universally appealing, and everyone from little kids to our grandmothers use them; which is why the news that racially diverse emojis are coming next year is so very, very exciting.
Earlier this week, emoji developer Unicode announced that version 8.0 (set for release in June 2015) will include a modifier that allows users to adjust the skin tone of its emojis. The five available modifiers will be based on Fitzpatrick skin types, a standard scale in dermatology used to classify skin shade based on how easily someone burns/tans (seems legit). You can apply the modifiers to any of the characters available, and accessing the new emoji-people will work in the same way touchscreen phones handle normal character variations, where you hold down the key and a little menu of options pops up for you to pick from.
This is a big deal (insofar as anything emoji-related can be a big deal). Original emoticons (e.g. all classic smiley faces) are a cartoonish and non-human bright yellow, which is part of what makes them so universal, but emojis feature a plethora of options that are actually meant to look like, you know, real people. The current emoji-people are not what you’d call diverse (they’re based off of the original Japanese carrier images and there’s been a lot of backlash over the fact that there are right now no black emojis).
It’s refreshing and awesome to see a company add this diversity for its users. No one color should ever be the “default” skin tone, so the fact that they’re putting skin tone options into the hands of users is completely rad. Acknowledging and embracing our diversity, even in this small emoji way, matters! So hooray for the emoji universe expanding to look even slightly more like the many different people who use it. All that being said, it might be a while yet before we actually see this update on our phones.
As Mashable reports, even if Unicode releases the update in the middle of next year, that doesn’t mean that companies like Apple and Google are required to update their operating systems to support them (most haven’t updated to accommodate version 7.0 from last June). But the fact that Unicode has presented this possibility, and has shown that it’s thinking about the diversity of its users, is an awesome and important first step. Hopefully the companies behind our favorite smartphones will take note and hop on board; we’re totally ready for a more representative palate of emoji emotions to choose from.