A Middle Finger, but Still No Emoji People of Color

By Robinson Meyer

Some colossal works do not arrive with a clap of thunder, a rending of the earth, or a smiting of cities. Some we register only as a shuffling of papers. An engineer or bureaucrat files some documents, fills out a couple forms, checks the final technical specs, hits publish—and at once the world is changed forever.

So it was today, when the non-profit Unicode Consortium announced its new version, Unicode 7.0. The unicode standard dictates how modern computing devices turn code into letters. It’s a complex set of commands that  translates code into letters. (At its most rudimentary, this system tells your phone or laptop that “01100001” means a.) A new unicode standard—this is version 7.0—usually means especially good things for languages that don’t use the standard Roman alphabet. This particular release, for instance, includes the new Russian currency sign and improved directions for writing in the Indic languages.

But this release also brings gifts for speakers of all languages, for beyond letters and accounting signs, something else springs from unicode: emoji. That’s right—with today’s new unicode standard comes the description of new types of emoji.

These are, to my mind, the 10 most exciting ones.

Before I begin, an important caveat: We don’t know exactly what they look like yet. Just as an “a” in Helvetica looks different from an “a” in Times New Roman, different emoji fonts change the appearance of emoji. The unicode symbol called 1F383—which looks like a smiling jack o’lantern—looks different on the Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android devices. 

However, the Unicode Consortium does specify suggest what these new emoji might look like with example images called reference glyphs. The images supplied below are the consortium’s. 

1. The Middle Finger. 

For years, we have gotten by on the index finger. No longer will we have to gesticulate at the sky. At last, the consortium has let us flip the actual bird.

2. The Vulcan salute. 

While not labeled as such—the consortium calls it “Raised Hand With Part Between Middle And Ring Fingers”—there’s little doubt this new symbol invites you to live long and prosper.

3. Chipmunk.

For when your cheeks are stuffed with food.

4. Chili

To convey professorial hotness, perhaps, or to join the already large number of Freudian surrogates.

5. Satellite

Finally a way to say that your DirectTV service is down. Or that you’re feeling watched. Perhaps by Google

6. Rolled up newspaper

Have to side with Time’s Nolan Feeney here: “ To tell your colleagues that the viral video they sent you is old news.”

7. The new weather icons.

A new swatch of emojis will convey different, partly cloudy conditions: cloudy and rainycloudy and snowy, even cloudy and tornado-ing. It’s a boon for weather app developers: If they want, they don’t have to design a new, small icon to represent different conditions.

It’s also a boon for anyone who wants to, you know, talk about the weather.

8. A SWORD!

It will come in handy for two main reasons: (a) Game of Thrones recaps, and (b) Juliet and Romemoji.

9. Levitating business man in a suit.

What does he represent? Some kind of secret government operative? The indiscriminate power of finance capital? Taylorism? The consortium offers no hints.

10. What’s not on the list.

Ultimately, the emoji I most anticipated are the ones that aren’t here. There are 250 new emoji today, and still few representations of people of color. That’s right: Other than a few stereotypical pictograms, all the current humans of the emojiland are white or a cartoonish yellow.

On its site, the consortium does address these concerns:

As with the examples of emoji characters representing food items above, an emoji character like U+1F474 OLDER MAN can vary in appearance depending on the font. Unicode does not require a particular racial or ethnic appearance—or for that matter, a particular hair style: bald or hirsute. However, because there are concerns regarding the emoji characters for people, proposals are being developed by Unicode Consortium members to provide more diversity. 

But it doesn’t have a solution yet.

You can see a list of the other 240 new emoji over at the omnibus Emojipedia.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/06/a-middle-finger-but-still-no-emoji-people-of-color/372895/