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Google & Apple want to add racial diversity to emoji characters

A new proposal by the Unicode Consortium (which has been edited by reps from Google and Apple) would bring racial diversity options to emoji characters.

Published onNovember 5, 2014

emoji 3

The Unicode Consortium (the organization that coordinates development of the Unicode standard) recently introduced a proposal that would entail adding more racial diversity to the emoji characters (i.e the little yellow smiley faces you insert into text messages) used for mobile devices. Google and Apple have already both viewed and edited the proposal, which looks to bring skin tones and racial variety to emoji faces.

The history of the emoji

While this may seem like a rather minute development at first glance, the topic actually has quite a history. Emoji, which were originally based on images of Japanese carriers, were officially encoded into the Unicode standard back in 2010. As emojis were grown out of a smaller geographic region, the images were kept very standard, and used little variety to reflect diversity.

Apple added a lesbian and homosexual couple to to their emoji collection in 2012, but many (including singer Miley Cyrus and actor Tahj Mowry) continued to ask why there weren’t any black emoji. Apple then made it known (when asked by an MTV blogger) that their character set of emojis was based on the Unicode standard, and that they were working with them in an effort to update it.

Fast-forward to today, and although not confirmed,  it would appear that the update to the standard will happen sooner than later.

Updating the standard

The Unicode Consortium has now published a draft proposal for the changes, with Mark Davis of Google and Peter Edberb of Apple having already edited it. The way it would work (in summary) is a little something like this:

  1. User selects which emoji they want to add to their message
  2. An option to select tone would appear, allowing you to choose the color (on compatible phones)
  3. For phones that aren’t compatible with the new font, users will most likely see a color swatch that indicates the skin tone next to it.

The Fitzpatrick scale will be used to determine the actual skin tone colors, which will scale from a cream colored tone up to dark brown & black variations:

emoji 1


The draft also states that the modifiers would not only effect single character emojis, but also those in groups (i.e pairs, family).

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While there is no confirmed date for when these changes will happen, we do know that the new Unicode update will arrive in the middle of 2015. It’s also worth noting that this is still a work in progress, with no indicator that it has been officially confirmed to happen.


While there certainly is nothing wrong with having different colored emojis, I must admit that as a black person myself, I never really wondered (or cared) what skin color emojis have. In my eyes, they are pretty neutral the way they are now, which is fine by me. That being said, I can certainly understand if others feel differently, and I for one would certainly have nothing against getting new smileys to play with! I imagine that their use would also depend on how quickly users could create them, as most people normally don’t put too much thought into emojis when using them (which is quite often for me).

Anything involving race nowadays can be a very delicate topic, and as emoji skin color was never a big deal in the past, I personally hope that having the option to use them doesn’t actually create a problem. What do you guys think about this update to the Unicode Standard? Let me hear your thoughts about it in the comments below.

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