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A sea of black and white emojis including a white girl with a black hand

We asked the public if it's OK for white people to use black emojis

Like it or not, emojis have taken over the world. The cute little ideograms are now a feature of everyday life. They even have their own movie now - albeit a critically-panned one - and people seem to have a great sense of attachment to these symbols. Maybe it's because their ubiquity has made them all so instantly familiar but regardless, they're certainly they're here to stay.

In their default form, most emojis are visually yellow - a racially neutral colour. For the most part, people were happy to use these, but then there came a demand from users for emojis with a darker skin tone to better represent the people of colour who used them. Apple acquiesced, and in 2015 added 300 racially diverse emojis to iOS 8.3. Much like adding an accent to a letter, users could customise the skin tone of emojis. Thus, after years of waiting, black emojis were possible.

A number of emojis with different skin tones. Credit: Apple

However, this feature has only proved to be more divisive, since anyone can now use any kind of emoji they want. Many white people use black emojis exclusively instead of their own skin colour - a sentiment some find bigoted. It's an intriguing issue, one that perhaps raises more than a few unsettling questions about the way we use emojis and exploit culture created for minorities. So we took to the streets to find out what people think.

An image of a dark-skinned emoji woman with arms crossed. Credit: Emojipedia

"I've used the brown version of emoticons, as a sort of satire. Because I'm like 'what's the point? It doesn't really matter.' It's an emoticon, I don't really like emoticons anyway. If someone does have an emotional attachment to an emoji then they've got a problem."

- Junaid, 23, Asian British

"This sounds like I'm sitting on the fence, but I'm not really sure. As a white person, I don't really know if it's a problem, but then I'm not the person who's being offended by it. So I completely understand if other people of other races may find it offensive. I have used [black emojis] but I don't think I've ever given any consideration to the offence it might cause."

- Ryan, 27, white British

A pair of hands holding a smartphone. Credit: Pexels

"I use the corresponding skin tone because I think it's a good thing to have variety, to have way more colours. I don't use them because I'm black and I think 'it represents me' ... I don't see an issue. In fact I would question someone having an issue with it in the first place. It depends on the person. If I know the person and I know why he or she is using that emoji, then I know the context. Two years ago there was just one colour, and if someone was to send you a white emoji, then you wouldn't think twice about it. So because there are more options, you might feel like now people are forced to identify with a race."

- Sandra, 27, black British

"All that matters to me is communication, so I don't use them, but you young people are crazy about it! The only problem might be if someone who is not white, doesn't use the proper colour for themselves. Like, for example, there are some black people with brighter skin, and so if people don't have that option, to choose how dark their skin is, it might give an inaccurate portrayal. There are some black people who don't like to be portrayed with lighter skin, so they might be offended."

- Jehoshaphat, 65, Black British

"I always use the normal, yellow emoji; I don't really go for others. I think it's just a more generic answer. It's interesting that there are different colours of emojis, but I think it's just creating a problem. It didn't seem necessary to open it up to this point. It's not a thing I have an issue over."

- Matthew, 28, white British

A black man using a smartphone. Credit: Pexels

"You should use any emoji you want. I don't think you should make a difference out of it ... I don't think you should make a drama out of it if you use a black emoji."

- Alicia, 20, white British

"It's a bit crazy to say that it's racist. I mean, I don't really use white emojis, but I don't use black ones either. But it doesn't matter, it's just an emoji. Weirdly enough, if someone white did send a black emoji, I'd wonder why. But I wouldn't think anything of it. It would never bother me to be honest. I just use the yellow ones."

- Tola, 16, black British

"I wouldn't necessarily say that it's a problem, but it is something that I've personally avoided intentionally. I use normally use white or yellow [emojis] based on who I was talking to, I think. I am aware of any repercussions that come about as a result of it. Certainly Kendall Jenner, with her however-many followers, has got more of a social impact than I have. I think maybe she should be more socially aware than she apparently has been."

- James, 36, white British

So there you have it - the general public doesn't seem to think it's an issue. But that's not to say that people don't take this subject very seriously. Just look at what happened when Kendall Jenner used a tan fist bump emoji to celebrate her family making the cover of The Hollywood Reporter.

Ultimately, from what I managed to glean from the public, the issue comes down to a question of choice and freedom. Sure there are some people who might be offended by white people using darker-skinned emojis, but there's no sensible way for us to effectively police emoji use and any attempt to do so will completely invalidate the point of users having the freedom to choose the emoji that suits them. I'm not saying that people of colour shouldn't interrogate the way others communicate with them, but at the same time, to brand any and all use of black emojis by white people just seems to be excessively dogmatic, and will ultimately only serve to divide us.

Featured illustration by Egarcigu

  • Aug
  • 29 shares
  • Callum Henderson