The usage of skin tone emojis is a sign of rather alarming development in digital communication. Instead of promoting diversity and inclusion by removing racial profiling online, skin tone emojis are corrupting communication with racial profiling and Tribalism.
Emojis were developed in the late 90s in Japan. The default color of “human emojis” has been yellow. Around 2008, Apple introduced emojis on iOS. Then in 2015 the company introduced skin tone emojis to promote diversity. Today typing solutions typically offer six skin tones, following the Fitzpatrick Scale, which is widely used to categorize skin pigmentation for medical purposes. The 6 emoji skin tones supposedly enabled world population of 7+ billion to feel more inclusive.
I encountered skin tone emojis for the first time at work, on Slack. It immediately felt uncomfortable. Previously when someone liked my post I only knew someone named X liked it. Great. Now the information communicated to me is – “Someone named X, whose skin color is Y, liked my post”. Yeah, I needed to know your skin tone too, thanks.
I tried to reconcile with this discomfort by trying to put myself in the shoes of skin tone emoji users. They’re trying to tell me they like my post and also their racial background. I suppose this makes them feel proud, but it seems strange and illogical to me. We shouldn’t feel proud or ashamed of our skin color. Then I thought, maybe they are just trying to send out a message against racism. Here the question is, if the situation does not require, is there any reason to communicate your racial background? Why bring up your race if you don’t want racism? Indeed, there’s no need for the expression of race based identification from any participant. Unless of course, the topic of the discussion itself is relevant. But that’s hardly the case. It’s voluntary communication. “Hey I like it and this is my skin color” – No it doesn’t make sense cause it’s completely out of context.
I don’t need that extra, race based information. I would be just as happy you liked my post, irrespective of your skin color. Action and character matter. I am not interested in demographic or biological attributes such as country, gender, certainly not your skin color. By telling me your skin tone you are creating a division among participants in terms racial profiles. The usage of skin tone emojis results in not considering yourself and your collaborators solely as human beings, but rather see them as human beings belonging to a certain race.
It’s appreciated that you’re against racism and all in for promoting diversity and inclusion. However, by using skin tone emojis, you are introducing the unnecessary, tribal identification attribute to discussions. The communicators are individuals who are already expected to treat each other equally and respect each other. There is no need at all to know each other’s racial profile.
Collecting data on different skin tones would contribute to race based advertising and exploitation. This should be avoided. The way forward is abandonment of mass racial profiling. Corporations should be audited on the matter. We should refrain from such research activities.
Why is this ridiculous practice accepted so widely? In my view it’s a symptom of postmodern era cultural digression. A group of people are hyper aware (so-called woke population) about race, gender? They are so hypersensitive about their tribal identities that it has become toxic. Suddenly one day after decades of existence of default yellow emojis, they decided that was not diverse enough. It’s an acute identity crisis, I think some kind of OCD about words and objects that triggers immediate, race based self-validation. If the idea is to destroy tribal barriers, they are doing the opposite – bringing up and associating race, gender and other tribal identities at every opportunity they get. Identifying oneself as simply a human being is not enough, apparently.
Don’t get me wrong – I am all in for diversity and inclusion. I prefer a diverse environment rather than a non-diverse environment. I believe that when people from different cultural experiences and backgrounds and environments collaborate it generates better ideas. The reason is that people with varying experiences in terms of ethnicity, geography and so on simply think differently, or more precisely see life differently, approach problems differently.
If we need to defeat race based tribalism, a precursor to racism, we need to stop bringing up racial profile out of context in discussions. I hope that, following the abandonment of religious identity at work and public, racial identity will also become invalid as a self- identification attribute. The aspiration of truly progressive society is to abandon all sorts of tribal identification.
You are not a color. We do not require attention to our skin color when communicating with others online and offline. We are human beings in principle. Let’s stick to that identity, and try to express that core identity.