Research, analysis, and thought leadership for enterprise communications.

Global Business and Emoji

by in Telecom

We will soon have racially expressive emoji. You know those smiley faces that wink or cry or express emotion; well, you will now be able to add racial connotations to them. So you can have a brown skinned one, or a tan skinned one or a yellow skinned one. I have pink skin, I don’t see one for me, but that’s OK.

The explanation is that the new emojis will be racially diverse. I’m not sure why a smile or an expression of anger needs to be racially diverse, and the yellow ones that looked like nobody’s skin were fine for me.

My worry is that we may be setting up the language of racially charged hate messaging. Before it wasn’t possible to code messages that a black person made a tan person upset. Now it will be. This bothers me a lot.

One of the interesting things about the Chinese language is that you don’t say “he” or “she” when you talk, you just say “person.” This is wonderfully non-sexist. You aren’t constantly classifying every action and every comment into male and female. Chinese speakers new to English often remark how cumbersome it is and how non-neutral it is to constantly be saying “he” or “she”. I never thought about this before, but I agree.

If we had decided that “man” derived from “human” and not male it would have dissolved the inherent historical sexism in titles like “postman”. And, if we used “-er” for a job title it would have been gender neutral as in “hairstyler.”

What I am saying is that I think sexism and racism can be managed better by removing the words of distinction, rather than adding more of them. I realize this is a bit George Orwell where they eliminated words from the English language, but there is some merit in the idea.

As for adding racial Emojii now I can’t just express “happy”. I must burden the concept with my race…or some race.

I would have been happy if people didn’t like yellow because it was too close to my pink color skin if people said we should change the emoji to green. I never really thought that yellow represented any race, I mean, who really looks sunshine yellow?

If we are going to go down this path, then perhaps we need slanted eyes (“Corn husk” eyes as they are called in China.) After all, why should all emoji have caucasian eyes?

Maybe we are working on things that just aren’t a problem.


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Colin Berkshire is a highly technical HR executive in the Pulp and Paper Industry. Colin has an engineering and voice background, and is currently on assignment in Asia. NOTE: Colin does not respond to comments, and does not Tweet.