THE BLOG

There Are 9 Different Book Emojis -- But Not One Emoji Face That Represents My Brother

08/07/2014 11:33 am ET | Updated Oct 07, 2014
Carly Steyer

In 2012, the cosmetics chain Sephora lobbied on behalf of more colorful nail polish emojis via Twitter:

RT if you want more colors for the nail emoji 💅

-- Sephora (@Sephora) December 18, 2012

And Miley Cyrus stepped up to point out that there were a few other things missing from the emoji library:

@Sephora umm before they add nail colors they BETTER add black people!!!! 👳👲💂👱👧👵👴 #wtfemoji Am I right or am I right @GREY__NAT ?!?!

-- Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) December 19, 2012

A year and a half later, Miley's request -- which echoes thousands of others also voicing frustration about the lack of ethnic diversity among the standard set of smartphone emojis -- still goes unanswered.

In response to Miley, some might say...

Who needs people of color when you have hearts of every color?
heart emojis

Or books of every color:
book emojis

Apologies for the lack of ethnic diversity; the emoji creators were too busy coming up with all of these mailbox varieties:
mailbox

...and developing two drastically different folder options:
folder emoji

They were preoccupied with the design of these highly unique houses and churches:
emoji buildings

And the ever-essential lock and key symbols:
key emojis

You really shouldn't be complaining; at least they didn't forget to include these two oh-so-different calendar emojis:
calendar emojis

Instead of worrying about racial diversity, they focused on saving users time by creating a single red exclamation point, a single red question mark, AND a symbol that combined both (because tapping the two individual emoticons -- which sit right next to each other on the emoji keyboard -- would be the ultimate hassle):
punctuation emojis

They believed that giving a face (or two... or nine) to the sun, the moon, and your cat was more important than giving a face to people of color.
emoji moons
cat emoji

All jokes aside, when you think about how many trivial and superfluous emoticon options there are, it's just outrageous that they have yet to diversify the human face emojis.

I didn't really take personal issue with the whole thing until the day I tried to depict my immediate family in emojis. My parents, two older siblings and I are Caucasian, and I had no trouble finding symbols that were at least moderately accurate representations of us. My younger brother, however, is adopted and African-American, and he seemed to have no place among the hundreds of emojis.

emoji family

I scrolled through the pages of symbols to find that my only options were the cute little Caucasian baby face (which looked not a thing like my younger brother):
baby emoji

...or the token sign of a baby crawling:
baby sign

Beyond that, I was left with a set of ethnically ambiguous yellow smiley faces, which hardly seemed suitable for my younger brother when the rest of my family was being represented with human faces. That's when it really struck me that, aside from one presumably Asian man (officially called the "Man With Gua Pi Mao" emoji) and another male face in a turban (officially "Man With Turban"), options for any person of color are absurdly limited.

emoji faceemoji face...emoji silhouette

In mid-June, these complaints were almost addressed when Unicode -- the organization that develops international software standards -- announced that there would be an update to the emoji library. This announcement came just a few months after Apple Inc. had publicly addressed the matter, saying that they agreed that there "needs to be more diversity in the emoji character set" and that they "ha[d] been working closely with the Unicode Consortium in an effort to update the standard."

I was hopeful that the new update would include not only the cupcake and middle finger emojis that others were wishing for, but also a symbol for my little brother (and maybe even one for women of color, disabled people, biracial relationships, and religions other than Christianity).

Unfortunately, the update has failed to live up to my high hopes.

Unicode released a list of the new emojis, revealing that the new set would include symbols as obscure as a levitating man in a suit, an oil drum, a three button mouse, and six varieties of a ballot box... but still no non-white faces. Now, a few very creative and proactive individuals have taken to designing their own emojis and developing their own apps to combat these blind spots. And while I overwhelmingly support their efforts, it seems very unfair that they should have to go out of their way to design entire mobile applications to make up for huge tech companies' shortcomings.

While some people are able to laugh this all off, insisting that they're just little symbols on a screen, I have a hard time doing so. And frankly, I don't think I'm being overly sensitive. Although emoticon symbols on mobile devices are admittedly not nearly as urgent as the global conflicts capturing today's headlines, the larger theme of the lack of fair representation of people of color in the media is undeniably important. I come from a generation where many people seem to be just as attached to their devices as they are to their own limbs, and I worry about the message these emoticons send to younger generations. How am I supposed to explain to my little brother that our non-existent pet cat's emotions are more important than he is?

I guess I just have a hard time understanding why we conjured nine different book emojis, personified the sun and the moon, and came up with hundreds of office supply varieties before thinking of including people of color in this library of symbols that so many of us use every single day.

11 Unexplainable Emojis