Are Emojis Racist?

Courtesy of Ken Lee (Flickr)

Courtesy of Ken Lee (Flickr)

Emojis are Japanese icons adapted in several forms of cyber communication and have become popular in the United States since Apple incorporated them in iPhone keyboards. Emojis tend to represent minority groups in a stereotypical manner and do not represent certain minority groups at all, such as African Americans. Misrepresentation or the absence of minority groups portrays the social hierarchy and power granted to the white man. The highest members of the strata happen to dominate the emojis because the stereotyped icons show a lack of understanding and acceptance of other cultures in society.

There variation of white emojis range from age to different features, such as brown or blonde hair. The representation of white phenotypic characteristics demonstrates how society guarantees social acceptance of such features. 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.

The way in which emojis ignore minorities is obvious throughout social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. For example, pop star Miley Cyrus began a cyber rebellion on Twitter over the exclusion of certain ethnicities in iPhone emojis.

Emojis have several meanings and can be used to carry out a conversation without the use of words. The language and culture emojis produce are essential in current social media since we use them so frequently. Yet, social media stereotypes or leaves out those who occupy the bottom of the strata. However, we still communicate the feeling of exclusion and racism without emojis or the use of words, emphasizing the power of social media and society. Will adding images of African Americans or addressing intersecting identities in iPhone emojis change anything? Unfortunately, I do not think offering one’s race a space in an emoji icon will give one more life chances, but it still demonstrates how systemic racism plays a role in even the smallest images and forms of communication.

16 responses to “Are Emojis Racist?

  1. You give an excellent analysis of how Japanese emoji racially and sexually entrench certain binaries. However, your view comes from an American perspective looking at an aspect of Japanese culture. If you looked at this issue through the cultural lenses of Japan, would you come to a different analysis? Additionally, what political action do you believe would raise awareness to these issues of intersectionality? Perhaps your next article could address these issues.

  2. This is an interesting take on what most people see as cute little pictures to make their texts more fun. Do you suppose that the lack of diversity among the emojis is a deliberate move by Apple? It is perplexing, as they market to a global audience consisting of many different backgrounds.

  3. Wow, I come in contact with emojis on a daily basis and can see the underlying race problem more clearly now. It’s interesting how the intersections of both race and gender can be seen even within such trivial things such as iPhone emojis.

  4. This blog post is very interesting and you bring up a point that I previously had not thought about. Many people have an iPhone and use emojis on a daily basis. Even though emojis are just little characters or pictures that we use while sending messages, it is important to consider how certain minority groups are not represented.

  5. I agree! The few minorities that are emojis are portrayed in a stereotypical manner! There should definitely be more variety in the emoji’s races and the body parts and girls and boys should be of many different colors. Even excluding certain colors could be considered a microaggression, so maybe there should be an option to pick a symbol and choose its color! I love the mention of the emoji’s lack of intersectionality within the options. Though intersectionality among emojis may seem like a minute detail, it is these details that slowly but surely change the mindset of the public.

  6. In all my years of having an iphone, i never considered this! It’s hard to believe that race, gender, and sexuality has never crossed my mind when i am using emojis. After reading this, i envisioned a Latina emoji, or an African American emoji. Do you think people would still use them as subconsciously as they do with the emoji’s now?

  7. That is an excellent observation especially since almost 60% of Americans use smart phones. The recent generations are hopping on this trend and it is not uncommon for children in middle school to be seen with a smartphone. Therefore, it makes me wonder of the implications of misrepresenting minorities through emojis since children are gradually being exposed to this. The scary part is that emojis are so trivial it can go unnoticed.

  8. Wow! This is very insightful! I use emojis daily without even thinking about its relation to race. Millions of people probably use emojis everyday but are not aware of the under representations of the minorities in our world today. It makes me more aware of the many different things I encounter on the daily basis which might have underlying meanings.

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