Apple: Multicultural emoji are coming soon


A screenshot of Apple’s emoticons.

Apple has been quietly working to make its emoji offerings more multicultural, finally responding to a debate about race and representation that has rocked the Internet for s.

An Apple spokeswoman told MTV that the company believes “there needs to be more diversity in the emoji character set, and we have been working closely with the Unicode Consortium in an effort to update the standard.”


The Unicode Consortium, FYI, is a nonprofit industry group that, since the 1980s, has set the international standards for  characters.






This may seem like minor  – it certainly doesn’t indicate a timeline for the change — but the mere fact that  knows and cares about the problem is likely solace to Miley Cyrus, Tahj Mowry, and the other hundreds of people who have signed petitions and taken to Twitter to demand Apple add more than two non-white faces to its 845-icon catalog. Apple previously updated its emoji library to include  couples; but the only icons of color remain  and .



That’s prompted a lengthy Internet debate about when non-representation constitutes racism, and why Apple didn’t try to make these changes sooner. Emoji began in  and didn’t migrate to the American mainstream until 2011; as such, said Fred Benenson, the author of questionable masterpiece Emoji Dick, “there are these blind spots with emoji, as a lot of choices for the icons bias towards Japanese culture.” Case in point: There are 14 emoji for Japanese food — i.e.  – yet no hot dog.



The irony of all this, of course, is that many have ed emoji as some kind of universal, pan-cultural language, which anyone can access and understand. Emoji are a “new universal language,” the artist behind the popular project “Emoji IRL” said in January. “They communicate so perfectly entire ranges of emotions and activities in s and more clearly than we can with words. People of every age, gender, sexuality, social status, income status and race seem to connect with emojis and be able to communicate with them” — unless, of course, they feel left out.



Apple is  on when these changes could go into effect, but Unicode did discuss the issue at a meeting just last month. To which we can only say: .

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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