Tech Now + Beyond

It might seem cool to hate on emojis – but that’s actually offensive

People love to complain.

Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you have to admit, it has become a cultural phenomenon. I remember kids in my high school becoming popular for their supposed hatred of everything around them; whether it was hating pop music, biology class, your mom or even just the ability to breathe (really), hating things was seen as a cool kid thing.

I think it came from the cult-classic 90’s movie Clueless.

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But I digress.

Most of the time it was a harmless exaggeration. Taylor Swift, your biology teacher, and your mom never found out about your deep hatred for them. Instead, it was something we said for social leverage; the more you hated things, especially if it was mainstream, the more elite, or superior, you seemed.

So when emojis came into our world and flourished in mainstream media and millennial culture, it was obvious that they would get a few haters.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about not wanting to use emojis. You do you.

But when emojis are labeled as taking us ‘backward’ to a time when communication was more ‘primitive’ and less ‘civilized,’ that’s when I become angry and slightly confused.

The colonial mentality constructs a view of history that sees non-European cultures’ writing systems as primitive. This is done in order to promote the idea of European cultures as superior civilizations. It makes us feel like the only way to be valid in this world is to aspire to European culture, including language. It sounds complicated, but a quick glance will show you how prevalent it is in our society.

Why, for example, are recruiting agencies seeking out people to teach English in countries like Korea, China, and India?

The biggest argument I’ve heard for why emojis are primitive is that they are like Egyptian hieroglyphs, which are logosyllabic. This means that they consist of characters which on their own represent a word or phrase.

On the other hand, languages like English use the Latin script, which is phonetic. This means that each character is used in a string and sounded out to form a word or phrase.

Emojis being characters, which on their own represent words and phrases, would then make them more closely representative of a logosyllabic script.

In this way, emojis being inserted into languages like English, even going so far as to replace it, disrupts the narrative of European languages as superior. In other words, emojis completely disagree with the way European languages are written.

So when you call emojis ‘primitive,’ ‘backward,’ and ‘uncivilized’ you are also saying that logosyllabic writing systems like Egyptian hieroglyphs are ‘primitive’, ‘backward,’ and ‘uncivilized’.

When you say that emojis are taking us ‘backward’, you’re saying that historically black and brown writing systems are ‘backward’.

Many of you will call this a reach. You’ll say that I’m inflating emojis to be this huge representation of historically colonized cultures.

And I guess I am.

What people don’t realize is that seemingly small stuff like emojis can mean a lot. It can hint at other forms of oppression that people of color have to deal with on a regular basis. White people and people from western countries and backgrounds might not see the ways that they are perpetuating the colonial narrative.

But that does not mean that it does not have an effect.

And yes, I have mostly seen white and western people complaining about emojis.

As an English speaker, I feel happy seeing emojis inserted into everyday life. It’s a brilliant way to convey meaning and include a wider audience in conversation. For example, hashtags like #emojiresearch, which asks people to describe their research using emojis, supports the use of emojis in academia. It has been so interesting deciphering the different subjects people work in and study.

Some examples:

We need to start being more critical about the world around us. We need to interact with more empathy and be mindful of other people’s experiences, that might be vastly different from ours. When we attach words like ‘primitive’, ‘uncivilized,’ and even ‘unintelligent’ to anything, we are perpetuating the colonial narrative of inferiority vs. superiority.

Thinking deeply about emojis may seem a bit extra, but it’s frankly pretty damn fun.

By Ariana Munsamy

Ariana is a graduate from the University of Cape Town with majors in Gender Studies and Anthropology. She is a plant-lady artist, writer and poet, who has been published in Prufrock & Type/Cast Literary Journal. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, retweeting and playing Skyrim.