Facebook Messenger just got way more diverse.
Starting tomorrow, Messenger is rolling out more than 1,500 new emoji that include more women and offer users the option to choose one of six skin tones.
“We're diversifying the genders to create a more balanced mix that's more representative of our world,” the company said in a statement. “Now, using Messenger emojis, you'll see a female police officer, runner, pedestrian, surfer and swimmer for the very first time, and we'll keep rolling these out.”
Users will also be able to set a “default” skin tone for the emoji they use — though this can be changed at any time.
Another innovation is that the new emoji will be standardized across Android, iOS and other platforms, which means you’ll stop getting weird-looking boxes if you and your friend are using different platforms.
Some people (helloooo, comments section) will dismiss something like new emoji as trivial and meaningless. And is lack of emoji diversity the biggest problem facing women and people of color? Of course not, and no one is claiming it is.
But representation in media — including social media — does matter. When kids see men in a variety of professional roles, but women only appear as princesses and brides, that shapes their idea of what women can be. When people see a white male as the default “normal,” that makes it seem like everyone else is an “other."
And it leads to the conclusion that being a white male is somehow the "neutral" option, while only women and people of color are affected by their race and gender. For instance, as Valerie Alexander noted in a 2014 blog post, Sonia Sotomayor was repeatedly questioned about how, as a Latina, she could remain "neutral" on the Supreme Court. But no one grills white Supreme Court justices about how being white might influence their judicial decisions. And while interviewers and debate moderators repeatedly ask Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton questions related to gender, few ask her male competitors -- in either party -- about how being a man shapes their views or campaign.
Discussing the overwhelming whiteness of Hollywood and the Oscars last year, Demetria Osei-Tuto wrote on The Odyssey Online:
Representation is so important. POC (and so many other marginalized groups) need to see themselves reflected in media positively. … I want an Asian boy to know he can be a superhero, that an indigenous girl can be an astronaut and so on. White people aren't the only people that exist in this world. They are not the only ones who deserve to have their stories told.
All that is just as true of emoji -- especially as the medium increasingly becomes the way that people tell their own stories.