Posted on February 11, 2022

Which Skin Color Emoji Should You Use? The Answer Can Be More Complex Than You Think

Alejandra Marquez Janse, NPR, February 9, 2022

Heath Racela identifies as three-quarters white and one-quarter Filipino. When texting, he chooses a yellow emoji instead of a skin tone option, because he feels it doesn’t represent any specific ethnicity or color.

He doesn’t want people to view his texts in a particular way. He wants to go with what he sees as the neutral option and focus on the message.

“I present as very pale, very light skinned. And if I use the white emoji, I feel like I’m betraying the part of myself that’s Filipino,” Racela, of Littleton, Mass., said. “But if I use a darker color emoji, which maybe more closely matches what I see when I look at my whole family, it’s not what the world sees, and people tend to judge that.”

In 2015, five skin tone options became available for hand gesture emojis, in addition to the default Simpsons-like yellow. Choosing one can be a simple texting shortcut for some, but for others it opens a complex conversation about race and identity.


After another look at Twitter data, Andrew McGill, then writer for The Atlantic, found that some white people may stick with the yellow emoji because they don’t want to assert their privilege by adding a light-skinned emoji to a text, or to take advantage of something that was created to represent diversity.


But Zara Rahman, a researcher and writer in Berlin, argues that the skin tone emojis make white people confront their race as people of color often have to do. {snip}


Rahman, who in 2018 wrote the article for the Daily Dot, “The problem with emoji skin tones that no one talks about,” also challenges the view that the yellow emoji — similar to the characters from The Simpsons — is neutral, because on that show, “there were yellow people, and there were brown people and there were Black people.”

She said there was a default in society to associate whiteness with being raceless, and the emojis gave white people an option to make their race explicit.