It's hard to believe that it's been over two years since the great emoji activist, Miley Ray Cyrus, bravely took to Twitter calling for an #EmojiEthnicityUpdate. Well friends, the wait is over: Apple has finally updated its emoji keyboard to include a rainbow of skin tones for its popular emoji characters… putting an end to digital racism once and for all! (Wouldn't that be nice. 😕😔)
The good news is that you can now adjust the skin tone on nearly all of the people-emoji to a shade that suits you. This is a huge step forward in normalizing emoji. The options appear when you hold down the icon, enabling you to select from five different flesh options, or the default happy-face-yellow. It wasn't easy to settle on which skin tones to include, so the Unicode council based the range on the dermatological Fitzpatrick scale, because *science.* They also added a range of differently-gendered families to the keyboard, increasing visibility for gay and lesbian families.
But of course the Twitterati was quick to dampen the celebration by chiming in on what was missing— namely, gingers. Somewhat ironically, the default woman emoji used to have reddish hair, but she has been erased and replaced with a scale of hair options from blonde to black.
This might be a good time to point out that it is impossible for Unicode to develop an emoji, viable across platforms, that represented everyone in the world. But there are several apps though that will allow you to make your very own face into an emoji, if that's your aim.
I'm most inspired by the use of emoji not as cartoons or stickers, but as a language, and as such I think emoji should be representational without having to be literal. Which is why, as odd as the stark yellow Simpsons-like couples and families may look, I'm fine with them, because the alternative is bound to leave someone out. Capturing all possible gender and race permutations would require a separate keyboard all of their own, and would hardly be a shortcut to what you're trying to say. It's the symbolism of emoji—not their literal translation—that is at the heart of emoji's lighthearted humor.
Where we didn't get added diversity is in the area of cuisine. There were no new food emoji added. But now that we have 42 different international flags to choose from, you might consider pairing the knife and fork with the Mexican flag if you're going out for tacos.
Adoption of the new emoji is still a little clunky across devices and platforms. Twitter has yet to update their own emoji set to include the diverse cast of characters, and I was unable to find the new characters on my macbook. A word of warning: until your friends update their operating systems, your new emoji of color will appear as the old standard emoji with a little white box next to it, or, if you're really lucky, a white box with an alien in it: 👽 Speaking of which, if you want to get extraterrestrial emoji bonus points, you can unlock the secret Spock emoji, by installing it as a shortcut. Live long and emoji.
Cara Rose DeFabio is a pop addicted, emoji fluent, transmedia artist, focusing on live events as an experience designer for Real Future.