There are zombie emojis for those painfully long days, a red-haired emoji for red-heads, white hair, black hair, the elderly and even babies. When it comes to emojis, there seems to be something for everyone — or almost everyone. There is a growing conversation about the lack of inclusivity and diversity, which has taken many forms over the years — movies, toys and even education — and has now found itself in emojis with the rise of the Afro emoji.
This past year witnessed an emoji revolution, with 230 new emojis emerging that included those least represented in many channels, such as interracial couples, black families, those with disabilities, trans or gender-neutral couples and the blind and deaf. There’s even a robotic arm and leg. Despite this momentous step, there is one group that’s been completely left out — the Afro community.
This is something writer and activist Rhianna Jones has set out to change, by helping create what she coined the Afromoji.” “Emojis are the best way we can encapsulate our personality in digital conversations,” she told The New York Times. But how can you represent yourself in a text when there isn’t anything there that represents you? The purpose of any emoji is to express your character and emotion in any given moment, two things that should never be constrained, but are when it’s not all-inclusive.
The Unicode Consortium is a non-profit organization that sets the standard for text and software on the internet, including a unified standard for emojis. The Consortium consists of executives from Apple, Google and Facebook, and it already recognizes 3,019 emojis. Despite all these emojis and the numerous hair options there are — curly, straight, long, short, white, black, you-name-it hair — there is not a single emoji that represents those with Afros.
Zero representation is why Jones — an Afro-donning woman herself — decided to call Unicode out by creating the “Let’s Make the Afro Hair Emoji Happen #AfroHairMatters” petition on Change.org. The petition’s chief aim is to tell Unicode, Facebook and Apple why the Afromoji matters and to show how meaningful and necessary the natural hair movement is. The petition has amassed more than 60,000 signatures, a number Jones never expected to see despite there being not only a lack of representation in mass media, but misrepresentation.
“Afro hair has been long neglected in universal beauty norms,” Jones wrote, “which you see globally from actors and newscasters told their natural hair is unprofessional to children being sent home from school for natural hairstyles.”
There have been numerous incidents of hair discrimination in the United States and even Britain. British actress Thandie Newton, known for “Westworld” and the 2005 Academy Award Winning Picture “Crash,” tweeted how she wasn’t permitted to have her photo taken in primary or elementary school because her hair was braided. Newton tweeted this in response to New York declaring hair discrimination illegal.
The Afromoji movement has had an impact on a global scale, with media coverage in several countries and voices reaching out from all backgrounds, including Spanish, French, Portuguese and German. Jones is more than grateful for the global support the movement has received because it highlights a much bigger issue.
“I thank all of this universal excitement around the campaign” Jones said, “to prove that it’s so much larger than a single emoji, but it’s about an entire culture of people globally who have felt neglected and marginalized from societal beauty norms and are craving representation in digital and visual places.”
Jones seeks to breakdown the racist-archetype surrounding black hair by advocating for more representation and proposing it to Unicode. Kerrilyn Gibson — a friend of Jones, fellow Afro’d woman and graphic designer — created the series of Afromojis that encompass all skin-tones, ages and genders, which Jones submitted to Unicode for consideration in their 2020 round.
Every year, the Unicode Consortium designs, selects and approves new emojis into their system. They take proposals from candidates, such as Jones — who recently received a confirmation that Unicode received the Afromoji proposal — but can take months to be approved or rejected, and months more to appear on Apple and Google platforms. If the Afromoji is approved, though, it would be another stepping stone in the campaign for a society that is more inclusive and representative.