Sports and lifestyle TV host, actress, and executive producer Minentle Minnie Dlamini’s latest Instagram post sparked a conversation about inclusivity and representation yesterday. The accompanying caption to a picture of her majestic ‘fro posed a question we’ve all (as women of colour) perhaps been meaning to ask; ‘Why isn’t there an Afro emoji? Questions that need answers…’
The post has since amassed over 61K likes and over 400 comments (comparatively higher than previous posts). Resident admirers aside (understandable), this is an indication of the fact that Minnie’s question is not misplaced in today’s social climate. The comments speak for themselves too…
- jasprichieWe need it like yesterday
- nollie294How about we stop asking the question and make our own.@minniedlamini
- inkadyBeeeennnnn asking that!! 😏😌😌😌
- se2sbozuluI am also concerned
ntobetoboI had the same thought about dreadlocks
ellen_kaunda My exact issue we need an Afro emoji someone needs to take us seriously
Hijab emoji shows it’s possible
The general sentiments echoed throughout the comments thread is firstly, that the onus is on Africans to create their own emoji and secondly, that Minnie should monetise her question by creating her own emoji pack a la Bonang and Kim K. Although not necessarily monetised, this was the logic employed by 16-year old Saudi girl, Rayouf Alhumedhi, who proposed – with the backing of Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian – a hijab emoji (which Apple accepted) to The Unicode Consortium (the non-profit corporation that reviews and develops new emojis). ‘The fact that there wasn’t an emoji to represent me and the millions of other hijabi women across the world was baffling to me,’ Alhumedhi told CNN last year. And it’s just as baffling that the only hair type represented by emojis is straight hair.
It was only in 2015 when Apple introduced a diverse array of emojis to encourage social/racial inclusion, but those brown emojis kept their straight hair. Granted, brown women wear wigs and the like, but on days when we have our natural hair out, we’d like for our emojis to still represent us. People with afros shouldn’t have to use tree emojis for hairstyle representation.
Android attempted to navigate a way around this when they introduced the AR Emoji in the Samsung Galaxy S9 phone – AR emoji uses a data-based machine-learning algorithm, which analyses a 2D image of the user and maps out more than 100 facial features to create a 3D model that reflects and imitates expressions, like winks and nods, for true personalisation. However, as an S9 owner, I have to reiterate a grievance I have with this feature when I first started using this phone. When I created my emoji I was let down by how light the skin tone options were. I’m a light-skinned black girl, but the emoji options didn’t even offer anything close to my shade of brown. Also, the hair options were not created with African people in mind – I had cornrows at the time and I had to settle on an updo in a brownish hue to somewhat resemble what I looked like then.
POC shouldn’t be an afterthought
What Minnie Dlamini’s question therefore drew my attention to is that people of colour are always an afterthought, while white skin is considered the default. Dolls, skincare advertisements, Fathers Day campaigns, and even emojis – so much so that when brands eventually realise that we exist and use their products and services too, they make an occasion of it with major inclusivity campaign announcements, and we applaud these fish for swimming. Minnie shouldn’t have to create a ‘Minoji’ pack (unless she wants to) and Rayouf Alhumedhi shouldn’t have had to propose a hijab emoji to make texting her friends more comfortable.
Now we wait for afro, box braid, cornrow, twist-out and Bantu knot emojis. Yes?