A recent episode of Ask Code Switch on NPR explores the question of whether it is inappropriate to use skin a different skin color than one’s own while choosing emojis in text messaging. The program host, Kumari Devarajan, spoke with a parent who posed this question after her 15-year-old daughter, a Caucasian girl living in a diverse neighborhood, started using “black hand emojis” when texting her friends. The mother wondered if this was offensive, and if she should have a conversation with her daughter about race, politics, and sensitivity over the matter.
Devarajan suggested that while a conversation would probably be a good place to start, emojis have become such common tools for communication now that the daughter could very easily be trying to stay sensitive to her non-white community, or that the choice of skin color in emojis could have as much to do with the tone intended in the text as it does with the actual race of the person texting. He points out that assuming either an insensitive intention, or a lack of awareness or sensitivity, would not be fair in this situation. A conversation with the daughter is definitely necessary in this situation – a young girl used a specific emoji, and her mother interpreted the choice as something potentially offensive without inquiring further. If this situation isn’t discussed openly and honestly, further misunderstanding around the issue of racial sensitivity could be perpetuated. As Devarajan reminds the mother, the girl might need to think a little harder about why her message needs a certain color attached, but the mother may also be assuming something that her daughter didn’t intend at all.
The concept of charity in communicating with and understanding each other is key, particularly in matters like this one. Race is such a subjective and charged subject, easily misunderstood and taken with offense, when an open conversation could clear up confusion relatively easily. The mother most likely meant well and was concerned about her daughter using technology in a safe and respectful way, and probably didn’t intentionally assume malice or insensitivity from her daughter’s choice in emoji color. Charity involves approaching all situations with kindness and an open mind, and if this mother met her confusion towards her daughter with that same generosity, it opens up an intelligent and compassionate conversation rather than risking further argument and misunderstanding. I’ve had situations of responding to someone with my first emotional reaction instead of reminding myself to look for what the person actually meant, and expect the best from them.
The more I remember, and the more we all remember, that people always respond better to kindness than anger, the wiser our interactions will be. In a world of constant misinterpretation and misunderstanding, I think we all could use a little more conversation and open-mindedness. We all would do well to expect goodness from each other more often.