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emojis colorstruck

Getty: Young woman in café with mobile phone

I’ll never forget the day a friend of mine, talking about his mother said, “…Cuz you know my mom is a light bright.” I screwed up my face before asking, “Is she though?” This woman was light brown but not light bright by any stretch of the imagination. After all, the rest of that phrase is, “Light Bright damn near White.” And his mother did not fit that description…at all.

Then again, I’ve seen more than a few Black folk who seem to be a bit disillusioned about their skin tone. Whether they think they’re lighters or darker than they actually are, rarely is their assessment of their skin tone accurate. I don’t have a problem with people who think they’re darker than they are. (Low key, I’m one of those people.) But when people profess to be lighter, there’s often a perceived beauty attached to it.

Makeup artists talk about women who see them and request foundation shades that are two pigments lighter than their face. The fact that it’s makeup speaks to the idea that these women associate flawless skin and beauty with complexions that are lighter than their own.

With the advent of emojis of color, I’ve seen women express these type of preferences in the way they communicate emotions via text and on other online platforms. For the sake of this article, consider the emojis below.


Veronica Wells’ Iphone


The yellow one is the default emoji, the one that was first introduced on the iPhone. Then, in 2015, Apple released racially diverse emojis and the game changed. We could communicate with icons that looked like us. After all, if they were going to be used to express our emotions, they should bear our skin tone.

But with these increased options, some of us have learned some interesting things about the ways our friends and family members view themselves. My coworkers told more than one story of women who should identify with the last emoji, choosing the fourth when they send texts. Causing them to wonder or even ask outright, “Who is that supposed to be?” Because emojis are an add on, decorative elements for your text thread, I don’t think people take them all that seriously. Until they do.

The other day, I was watching an influencer’s Instagram stories. Throughout them she used an emoji that seemed way too light for her skin complexion. I certainly noticed it but since I didn’t know her, there was no way I was going to ask her about her choice. But another follower did ask. And instead of ignoring the comment, the influencer responded saying, “I’m not defined by an emoji.”

Later, the influencer chose a darker emoji, one that actually matched her skin tone, and asked, sarcastically, if the follower was happy now.

It was…enlightening. Of course we’re more than emojis. Emojis are essentially cartoons, that wear simple expressions and make one dimensional gestures. They were created by app developers. They’re limited. Still, we do use them to represent our feelings and even physical movements during a conversation. (I know when I use the shrug emoji, I’m liable to actually shrug in real life.) They assist in conveying our thoughts. They help to articulate humor, share our frustrations and express concern. So, in small ways, they are representing us.

And I think most people recognize that.

It was that need for representation that had people of color discouraged and then very vocal about our desire for emojis that looked like…us. I remember my dad used to use the black moon face to represent himself as a Black man in our text threads. When my mother first started using emojis in her texts, she sent the crying one to communicate her feelings about the absence of Black emojis. I thought it was ridiculous that the emojis on my own damn– and expensive–phone didn’t look like me.

When the diverse emojis were announced, I remember the excitement Black folk felt because their text message threads were going to get a lot more authentic.

Representation matters. So the thought that someone would intentionally choose to represent themselves untruthfully, inauthentically or in a way they deem more beautiful than their true selves is…telling and, given what we know about colorism in communities of color throughout the world, quite sad.

Do the emojis you send match your skin color? Is it strange when someone uses an emoji that’s lighter than their skin tone? Does it represent a deeper issue?

Veronica Wells is the culture editor at She is also the author of “Bettah Days” and the creator of the website NoSugarNoCreamMag. You can follow her on Facebook and on Instagram and Twitter @VDubShrug.
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