A friend of mine asked me recently if it was offensive for him as a white man to use darker skin-toned emojis.
That is an interesting question.. My answer at the time:
However, the answer is most certainly more complicated than that. So let’s do wtf we do and
over-analyze that shit..
First and foremost, let’s talk about the smiley face. For the first time ever in my life, I googled “black smiley face”. Here’s what I got:
Not exactly what I had in mind, but it speaks to what a smiley face is supposed to be. Does the typical yellow smiley face have no race? The simple answer is supposed to be yes. That motherfucker is yellow and I have never met a human being with that skin tone (it’s 2018 tho so it’s only a matter of time). Same with these black smileys. I decided to refine my search a bit. What does a brown smiley face look like?
Still pretty racially ambiguous. Blackness is in more than just the skin tone. Smiley faces don’t have noses and a wide nose is a prominent black facial feature. Also he’s not wearing a fitted.. I kid. But yeah. Look at that brown smiley face. It looks weird. This is the first time I have ever seen one. The yellow boy reigns supreme, especially in the emoji world. And furthermore, the skin tone of smiley emojis can not be changed from the universal yellow. So the yellow smiley doesn’t have a race, right?
Let’s take a look at one of America’s most prominent white families..
If a friend of yours tells you that The Simpsons aren’t white people, never ask them opinions about food because they don’t know anything. The Simpsons are white af. You know how I know? Because there are brown characters in The Simpson’s world who are not white. Jazz player Bleeding Gums Murphy. Apu, who by the way the people Apu is supposed to represent don’t care for.. There’s probably some more, I don’t watch The Simpsons. They are white, but they are yellow. So thanks to The Simpsons, whiteness in animation can be represented by the color yellow.. As if white people didn’t take enough shit for themselves.. I kid.
So I ask again. Is the smiley face white? Yeah man. It’s a hard and debatable yes, but it’s still a yes. Why? Because whiteness is the default race. It shows at the top of the race category checkbox on any given application and just in case those other race checkboxes are feeling frisky, the application itself is white paper to keep them in line (I kid). White people are the default in everything because white people run the world (or at least the country that thinks it runs the world). They have invented and conquered things since the dawn of civilization and put their faces on them as declared normality and made the rest of us caricatures.
Let’s focus. The emojis that can change skin tone are the hands and the ones that look like actual people with hair and probably noses and clothing. In case you didn’t know pull out your Apple or Android phone and find the hand emojis and touch on them and hold to see additional color options. Keep in mind that the default is still something of a white person’s hand, whatever color that is called. Maybe it’s peach or whatever color crayon you used as a kid to color white people before they came out with the skin tone crayons. Maybe it’s yellow. Either way, as we have established, it represents whiteness. The default. I am not complaining about this. Just stating that this is the case.
So let’s go back to my answer to my white friend’s question. My skin tone is probably only a shade or two lighter than his so I may not be the best authority to answer a question that deals directly with skin tone. Sure I understand things about the black experience, but skin tone matters as well. Furthermore, he is my friend. I know him and I like him. His use of any emoji wouldn’t lead me to think too heavily about it. However, if I didn’t know him, I may wonder. Intentions matter. Intention is the difference between willful racism and mistaken ignorance.
I personally take no offense, but is there someone who would? Once upon a time, Snapchat created a Bob Marley face filter. When you used the face filter, it made you look like Bob Marley, skin tone and all. This was the day I heard the term “digital blackface”. My immediate response:
In one of Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy specials he stated that he may retire from comedy again for a while because “the whole country has turned into bitch ass niggas”. Yeah bruh. Y’all soft af now. And that is coming from a dude who is most certainly a lover more so than a fighter. So nah I don’t agree with Snapchat’s Bob Marley filter as digital black face, but I could see someone making the same leap with someone white posting black emojis. Like I said, for me it’s about the intention, even when it comes to real life black face.
So after I answered my friend’s question, I decided that I couldn’t be the deciding factor on whether or not a white man using a black emoji is offensive or not. So I posted it to my facebook page for my diverse following of facebook friends to like, share, and comment upon. One commenter basically (and most likely unintentionally) #AllLivesMatter’d the post. That is the harsh way of putting it. She felt the best way to answer the question would be to put herself in the shoes of the possibly offended. The problem is that she is white.
She said that she would not be a offended if someone dark skinned used the lighter skinned emojis. The default emojis. To her credit, she may not be factoring in the lighter skinned emojis as the default. She may consider the default emojis as racially ambiguous as Bruno Mars. But we don’t. I asked my black friend what the default emojis were. He said they were white. To me, they are white. So.. If someone took offense to someone who was not white using the default white emojis, that is point blank racism. That is “They are not allowed to have the norm. They need to stick to their own.”
She isn’t racist though. She said she wouldn’t be offended. She was harmlessly trying to put herself in the shoes of black people by turning the argument around but one thing white people can never understand is that those are shoes they can never fit. There are things about blackness that they will never understand regardless of how many black friends they have or how much they enjoy hip hop.
I get her point though. I would say too many black people think that black people as a people cannot be racist because racism is about oppression and black people are not in a position of power to oppress white people. While that argument is true, racism in its truest form is not that complex. Racism is ignorance fueled by an unhealthy dislike or hatred. For someone black to tell her as a white person that she is not allowed to use black emojis because she is white, well I think that’s racism. It’s telling her to remain in her whiteness and don’t touch what is ours. If that is how we want things, then white people can feel justified and calling America “their” country and trying to get rid of us. All of that is bad shit that needs to be destroyed.
Such a long winded post about something so basic, right? Emojis? But it’s not that basic. Black Panther has been a long time coming and is so very needed right now. Black people feel lost in this world and the main thing that keeps us grounded is feeling like we are making progress. When a movie with a predominantly black cast drops on this level of entertainment, we feel that much more free and inspired to be ourselves. And now it feels important because the age of social media has brought so many things to light for all of us. This isn’t the first black super hero movie. There was Meteor Man. And even bigger, there was Blade. Times for black people were no better when those movies dropped but now we are all more aware than ever. We all see the man this country elected and the kind of people he inspires. We all see how police handle unarmed black young men. Black representation feels like progress. Black emojis are just another, smaller form of black representation and blackness as a whole being accepted and equalized.
Shoutout to my friend for asking the important questions. I was not expecting to get this much out of it lol..