Yellow emojis are “code for white,” actress Ashley Judd announced this week on Twitter. Her solution? The standard color for emojis should be black “so WE whites had to scroll to find a color that more accurately resembled US.”
& why are emojis yellow (which is just code for white)? Why don't they come in black & make me have to change them?
— ashley judd (@AshleyJudd) January 10, 2017
Emojis, invented in Japan in 1999, were originally black and white, 12-by-12 pixel images. As they’ve become much higher tech, they’ve morphed into a cultural and racial expression, sometimes becoming a flashpoint.
In 2015, Apple introduced a feature allowing users to choose the skin color of emojis, and subsequent updates have also focused on diversity. That’s prompted debate about whether these new symbols are a model of inclusion or a tool for racism.
Judd was the latest to weigh in, writing her emoji post as she promoted the Women’s March on Washington. That same march has also become controversial, with critics claiming white women are overrepresented.
Judd’s suggestion comes just weeks after actress Ellen Pompeo came under fire online for using black thumbs up and clapping emojis. She had deployed them in a tweet praising A&E’s decision to rename its upcoming documentary about the Klu Klux Klan so the title would explicitly state the network was “exposing hate in America.”
Pompeo, who has a black husband and two biracial children, immediately faced the accusation that she was a “privileged white woman” who had appropriated black emojis.
Judd, in contrast, tried to avoid similar accusations by calling attention to her own privilege. In addition to criticizing the emojis, Judd said she wanted to be called “a ‘non person of color.’”
“A negating word preceding talk about me and my race/ethnicity,” she wrote. “Now wouldn’t that be helpful and good for a while? For me to experience what it may be like to have my personhood negated before a conversation even gets started?”