Why Apple’s new emojis aren’t racist


Selecting just the right skin tone is now even easier. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac
Emoji are now racially diverse. But the controversy's not over just yet. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

When you’re a company the size of Apple, sometimes you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Having recently paved the way for racially diverse emoji by adding them to both Mac and iOS, Apple is now being attacked for the shade of yellow used for its Asian faces, which some critics claim is borderline racist.

A look at the new skin shades Apple recently introduced to iOS. Photo: Apple
A look at the new skin shades Apple recently introduced to iOS. Photo: Apple

“Are we really that yellow?” wrote one user on Chinese microblogging site Weibo. “Asian skin tone in the new Apple emoji set is bright yellow,” writes a Mumbai-based user on Twitter. “That seems more racist than racially diverse.”

“Apple rolling out new racially diverse emoji! Not sure how I’m feeling about these ultra-yellow Asian emoji tho,” writes another Twitter user of Asian descent.

While it appears to be a minority of users, the news has still been enough to stir up some big media outlets, such as The Daily Mail, which responded with an article entitled, “Asians angered by Apple’s ‘racist’ yellow emoji.”

But, as with so many Apple-related storms in a teacup, things aren’t quite what they seem. For one thing, the colors are based on guidelines from the Unicode Consortium, which sets international rules for text and characters for consistency across all mobile platforms.

For another, the yellow color is the default standard race-neutral option, with a color modifier then allowing you to choose between different racial representations. (In other words, think LEGO yellow!)

Ultimately, the perceived problem comes down to a teething issue raised by incorporating ideas like diversity into the abstract world of emojis. Yellow smiley faces have been used since the 1960s (at least!), when Harvey Ball designed his iconic yellow smiley face while working for a Massachusetts insurance firm. It’s only when you start trying to make emojis reflect “real life” that implications of color are raised.

That doesn’t mean that Apple won’t make a change if enough fuss is kicked up, however. Having been outspoken about the fact that China will one day be Apple’s biggest market, the company is obviously sensitive to what users there think. If enough noise is made, I wouldn’t be surprised to see yellow emojis dropped from future Apple releases.

If you ask me, however, it’s a total case of misunderstanding.

Source: Japan Times


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