If you have an iPhone and Emoji, go to the keyboard and look at the boy holding hands with the other boy, then take a look at the girl holding hands with other girl. Have your eyeballs fallen out? That’s almost how excited I was when I followed the steps listed above. If you don’t have an iPhone, Emoji, or the new iOS6, maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about, and that is perfectly acceptable (after all, those are many qualifications). The Emoji keyboard is essentially a colorful set of tiny, texting-sized pictures. The point is this: whereas you could only send pictorial representations of male/female couples in the last version, the new iteration of this magical keyboard includes a male/male and female/female couple, and I think that’s exciting.
But then I looked closer, and I started thinking beyond my initial excitement, and I got pretty bummed out pretty fast. Perhaps there are a few imperfections with these tiny gay couples- but then, you can only do so much with an icon smaller than the tip of a pinky finger, and at least they are finally there. But there is a glaring issue that needs attention. All the couples, of the same gender or otherwise, are white. The rest of the faces next to them: white. The hands directing you every which way: white. The lady making all the airplane stewardess-like motions: white. The cute family with a kid: white. Essentially every person on the keyboard is white.
What is essentially a set of advanced emoticons may not communicate the peak of our cultural understanding, but it certainly shows what creators deem popular or visible in our society, and that very alarmingly lacks people of color. It is perhaps more alarming that the only faces of a notably different appearance are in some type of tokenized “others” section- there is a man with a conical Asian hat and a man wearing a turban thrown in with a policeman and a guy with a hardhat. Must nonwhite people exist in some peripheral headwear category? I’m very confused.
On the one hand, I appreciate that now I can send an accurate representation of my relationship to people (whew, time saver for the repeated process of coming out- I can just send a text), but it’s another example of the fact that one form of cultural progress does not imply others- that specifically “gay rights” can mean progress for a pretty homogenous group if not done thoughtfully and inclusively. It is progress that an iPhone feature now represents what has already existed for a long time (i.e. ladies dating ladies and guys dating guys), but then, where are the pictures of nonwhite people in relationships and families? I hope the next update of this keyboard shows a truer representation of the world around us.
Contact Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org