There are emoji for pears, koalas, and jack-o’-lanterns; for a pine tree, a pizza slice, and a dragon’s head on a plate.
But there are no emoji for black people. That seems likely to change soon: Diverse emoji are coming.
The next system update for Apple Mac and iOS devices will let users type emoji with a variety of skin tones, a beta software release revealed Monday. Each human-like emoji, from the smiley face to the thumbs-up, will be available in one of five skin tones. And emoji that do not have a racial modifier will no longer appear as white—they’ll instead appear a Simpsons-esque yellow.
This new update will let Apple smartphone users send each other diverse emoji. But as the emoji standard is jointly implemented by Apple and Google, it signals that the Unicode Consortium has chosen a method of typing emoji with different skin tones. (It's unlikely Apple would implement these changes if they weren't going to be the standard.)
All this has been a long time coming. Emoji are part of Unicode, the vast and important standard used across nearly all modern computing systems. Unicode is what ensures that an “a” on my screen looks like an “a” on yours, and that ★ stays a star everywhere. Emoji—small pictographs that can be typed among paragraphs of text, somewhat like this ☺—actually predate modern smartphones, as they emerged first from Japan’s chaotic phone ecosystem. But it was not until 2010, with support from Apple and Google, the two most-prominent American smartphone manufacturers, that Unicode standardized emoji.