Hold on.

Black and White Emoji Symbols and the Risks

Indeed they might just be more dangerous than they seem. Those litle black and white emoji symbols pack a powerful punch.

Just a few pixels can become a work of art in postmodern society. No one cares about Van Gogh (1853-1890) anymore. No one cares enough to go to the Louvre. Now a little emoji can cause the same amount of controversy as the Mona Lisa (1503) or the Piss Christ (1987). And consumers have become hungry for them. They show up on backpacks and purses like the red, blue, and yellow lines of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). So what’s wrong with a little upheaval? These tiny little images are political and powerful. These black and white emoji symbols can be used inappropriately and even dangerously. Using the wrong black and white emoji symbols can be awkward to many ethnicities, appropriate culture, and even be a sign of white supremacy.

Identifying with Black and White Emoji Symbols

Imagine suddenly being a drastically different race and having a different color of skin. Would it be awkward? Would social interactions be the same? Would someone who changed their ethnicity act different? Would that person be treated more or less fair?

Homer Simpson never had a problem being yellow. “For a lot of people of color, those yellow emojis weren’t … us. Our praise hands always felt a little jaundiced” (Devarajan). Mr. Simpson has always been yellow and has always had yellow emojis to choose from. But, as Kumari Devarajan explains, when people can’t communicate their true ethnicity, things become blurry. Problems can arise like having a confused perception of communication and identity.

Caucasians have never had to think about what color thumbs up they are. The yellow emoji has long been the normal emoji and whites have long had the privilege of identifying with it. The light complexion of the default emojis like the thumbs up and happy faces closely simulate white complexion so there is no problem for the normal common white person. But these other Black people and people of color. People of color have to think a little harder about what emoji to use.

Because of this, people of color have a harder more awkward time choosing black and white emoji symbols than whites have ever had.

Culture and the Color of Emojis

Whites using black emojis not only appropriates black culture but mutters it.

Have white people reduced black power to a simple black fist emoji? “…trying on black skin when it is fun, safe and convenient […] is inadvertently trivializing the experiences of real black people” (Devarajan). White people using the black fist emoji recalling the ideals of the black power movement and Black culture can belittle and patronize something critically important to African-Americans and their history. Colored emojis were designed to express the self not others and their cultures.

The fist emoji holds connotations of power but the black emoji holds so much more and should not be taken by those of other ethnicities.

Black and White Emoji Symbols

A Different Perspective?

Here’s where white people get angry. No one is saying white people should be using the pasty pure white emojis; using these pale emojis might actually be a little alarming.

Using the tiny white upward pointed thumb, or worse a raised fist, is crossing the line:

What is white privilege? It’s the level of societal advantage that comes with being seen as the norm in America, automatically conferred irrespective of wealth, gender or other factors. It makes life smoother, but it’s something you would barely notice unless it were suddenly taken away — or unless it had never applied to you in the first place.” – Christine Emba

Perhaps white privilege makes whites using white emojis a little too risky. People of color finally get black and white emoji symbols emojis, but whites can’t go empty-handed. Whites were not satisfied with not having to worry about choosing someone else’s color emoji. Whites were not satisfied with ever having to appropriate someone’s culture. But now they too have their own black and white emoji symbols. And so, this line is happily crossed by many whites.

Just seeing that bright white emoji appear on the screen can be a piercing shot to the stomach. The white emoji calls attention to the idea of race that can make many uncomfortable. Whites sending white emojis especially to Blacks can be jarring as it brings attention to so much horror surrounding race within society.

Just as that little black gesture is loaded with history and culture, so is the white one. The white emoji represents the history of the white man in relation to other races. This history isn’t always the most pleasant.

Black and white emoji symbols are complicated. Should white people stick to the yellow ones? Most of us know that white people using black emojis is a little scary, but should whites be using the yellow emojis or is it totally appropriate to use the white ones?


  • Devarajan, Kumari. “White Skin, Black Emojies?” NPR, npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2018/03/21/425573955/white-skin-black-emojis. Accessed 5 June 2018.
  • Emba, Christine. “What is white privilege?” The Washington Post, washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2016/01/16/white-privilege-explained. Accessed 12 June 2018.

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Written by

Topher is the founder and editor of Culture Hog Magazine. He studies art history and works at the Oakland Museum of California. Topher values strong community and worldwide healing and progress via the arts.


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