March 12, 2015 by inkedinbold
A couple weeks ago I found out that Unicode is creating new diverse emoji with six different skin tones. At first I was psyched, because that’s one less whitewashed piece of media. But there’s always a catch. I scrolled through the official images of the new emoji. Wow, five new shades of tan and brown, and they’re pretty realistic too! — thought Sadie, full of hope and uncharacteristic optimism about a more culturally open internet. Of course, as my eyes landed on the last emoji, my optimistic spirit was instantly crushed. I saw this.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this actually got approved. What is wrong with this picture? First of all, “yellow” has been used as a derogatory term for Asians in the past. Since none of the other diverse emoji seem to represent Asians, people are assuming that this is meant to represent Asian people and are taking offense, me included. All of the other emoji have realistic skin tones, but the Asians are dandelion yellow, nowhere close to actual people.
So how were these approved for publishing? I was definitely thinking that when I read the article, and others probably were as well, so I’ve done some extra research on what went on during the designing of the new emoji. These emojis are so violently sunshiney because Unicode used the Fitzpatrick Scale. The default color of the Fitzpatrick Scale is a bright yellow, which is why these were included. To create shades of tan and brown, color modifiers are used instead of the default. Apple analyst Rene Ritchie says that they aren’t meant to represent a human skin tone at all.
Although the offending emojis aren’t supposed to offend people, most people won’t bother to look up the Fitzpatrick Scale. People will still get offended, and even if Unicode didn’t mean to cause harm, they are still responsible for what they’ve produced and should leave out the yellow emojis, or at least publish an official apology to those they’ve offended.
Having good intentions isn’t the same as not being responsible.