RHIANNA JONES and Kerrilyn Gibson are two women on a mission. They are campaigning for an afro emoji.
And they’re not the only ones desperate for an emoji that represents them. So far, more than 25,000 people have signed Jones’s petition calling for the emoji to be created.
Gibson has designed the prototype, which comes in a range of skin tones, hair colours and genders.
Jones, a freelance writer, said: “Afro-haired users like myself, however, don’t have any emoji that reflect our hair or cultural identities. Everybody should be able to see themselves in the digital conversations they’re having. Our hair and our stories matter.”
She added: “Currently, emoji hair is straight and Eurocentric, and fails to represent the diversity of black, Afro-Latinx and other diasporic communities with kinkier, spherical, coily hair.”
Her explanation of the need for the emoji is one that many relate to. Regardless of whether the emoji will reflect them personally.
“This is a wonderful idea. The little things, although small, are plenty. And they stack up. For media to change in favour of black hair has brought us, and the world, closer to loving our black hair,” wrote one signatory of the petition.
Another wrote: “I’m signing because, as an engineer, I believe that technology is a fundamental part of humanity; and seeing oneself represented in technology is important to everyone. Representing black and other communities with a browner version of a European emoji is disrespectful of those communities and disassociates those communities from modern communication systems. All people should be able to see themselves in the technologies that they use.”
It’s a wonder that with the prominence of the natural hair movement, which grew exponentially thanks to digital spaces that enabled black women around the world to share their hair journeys, hair tips and discover products, and the celebration of the versatility of natural black hair in mainstream media, that black hairstyles haven’t been represented in the emoji space.
But the lack of afro emojis could also be a consequence of poor diversity within the tech sector.
Every year, around 70 new emojis are approved by the Unicode Consortium of which Google, Microsoft and Apple are all members. The non-profit organisation that produces the standards for text and emojis on the internet. Jones submitted her proposal for an afro emoji to the Unicode Consortium on March 31. If successful, an afro emoji could be in use in 2020.
This year, interracial couple emojis will be added, as will a guide dog and people in wheelchairs.
It was only in 2015, five years after it incorporated emoji, that the Unicode Consortium enabled emoji users to change the skin tones of certain characters. But the successful campaign by Tinder and Emojination for interracial couples will give to hope to supporters of the afro emoji. As will reports that Unicode is taking users’ calls for more skin tone varieties “very seriously”.
The 2015 skin tone change alone has been credited with boosting social media inclusion. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that Twitter users with darker skin tones were more likely to modify the shade of emojis they used to represent their real life skin. And it’s likely that an afro emoji could boost inclusion even further.
In the meantime, Jones has been signing off her emails with the words “insert afro emoji here”.
Hopefully, neither Jones or other black women with afros will have to do so for much longer.