Apple’s New Emoji Have Created Brand New Ways to Be Culturally Insensitive Online

From off-color bleach jokes to off-color MLK jokes, Twitter really stepped in the [poop emoji] last week.

More than half of Americans are in possession of a smartphone, with many using emoticons. It is fair to say that while all races are not represented by emoticons, all races use emojis. As explains, “Emoji & Emoticons are the alphabet of the social media generation.”

Last week, Apple unveiled new diverse emoticons, including a set of emojis with an adjustable range of emoji skin tones to pick from, including yellow, brown and black. It’s been a long time coming — the Black Twitterverse and scores of others online denizens have complained for years that Apple’s emoji set was woefully lacking. As Vice reported in 2014, “emojis include the middle finger, the Vulcan hand salute, an optical disc icon, a chipmunk, and a black droplet. But no black people.” Up until last Thursday, Apple emoticon users could only use yellow Lego-people-colored graphics as representation of themselves.

“The new emojis are here!” praised CNN’s Dean Obeidallah of Apple’s new version of its mobile operating system. “Why is any of this important, you may ask? For many, these images are far more than tiny clip art for texting. Rather, they are seen as recognition that their own ethnicity, sexual orientation, race or even hair color is part of mainstream America — despite what others might say. This matters in a digital age where texting is how most people communicate and represent themselves dozens — if not hundreds — of times every day.”

But hold up, this is not a kumbaya-holding-hands-around-the-campfire moment. Alpesh Patel, the CEO of African-based emoji company Oju Africa, thinks Apple missed the mark. “Look at their new emoticons — it’s all about skin color,” he told Vice’s Motherboard. “Diversity is not about skin color — it’s about embracing the multiple cultures out there that have no digital representation.”

In other words, those little graphics folk use to express themselves online are a social media powder keg, ready to explode. And, as if on cue, Clorox was the first big corporation to step in the [poop emoji] by tweeting “where’s the bleach” in reference to last week’s introduction of new “emoji” cartoons for iPhones. The household products company quickly removed the post and apologized for its social media misstep. It seems the problems affiliated with chemical skin lighting or “bleaching” (a practice that is epidemic in some brown or Black communities around the globe) were lost on the corporation’s social media managers who insist they were simply tweeting a light-hearted (pun intended) message about the lack of a bleach bottle inclusion on Apple’s emoticon list.

Thus, the politically incorrect first steps of the attempted political correctness of emoticons shows that having a well-rounded emoticon library goes far beyond several faces of people with black and brown skin. This should be a conversation about how Black people are represented in media — all media, from tradition to new forms – when words alone are not conveying that message. The ever-entrepreneurial LeBron James has offered an assist by providing his likeness via @NBAEmojis. And while heart-eyes-smiley-face passion is evident in the tweet of @TattedUpBreezy who wrote (and later deleted), “MLK died for this [heart-eyes-smiley-face],” I must say, uhm, no Martin Luther King was not assassinated for the notion of diverse emojis. It is already evident that the new Black emojis can as easily become offensive or stereotypical racial caricatures (like Europe’s controversial golliwogs that sill make appearances in ads and games).

So, how does one navigate the virtual world while maintaining cultural identity? Well, as I was pondering that matter, real world concerns erupted when ‏@CanadianMclovin tweeted, “Ever since I downloaded iOS 8.3 the cop emoji has killed 2 black emojis…”

Same [poop emoji], different day.

Follow @BobbiBooker on Twitter.