From The Atlantic:
Light-skin-tone symbols are used far less often in the U.S. than their darker counterparts. Does shame explain the disparity?
ANDREW MCGILL 1:57 PM ET POLITICS
When they were first launched in 2015, emoji skin tones corrected an obvious wrong. Previously, if a black man or a Latino woman wanted to text a friend the thumbs-up emoji on an iPhone, a white hand would show up. The Unicode Consortium’s solution made the new default color a Simpsons yellow and allowed users to tint certain emoji with one of five skin tones, ranging from “pale white” to “darkest brown.” People took to the new tones immediately, reveling in the freedom to post and in shades that represented them.
But as emoji with skin tones spread to Twitter, Facebook, and workplace chat applications like Slack, I noticed something I hadn’t expected: … almost no one I knew used the lightest skin tone, or even the second-lightest. Indeed, as a white man who tends to be either pale or sunburnt, I had never considered using it myself. When I did switch briefly to the lightest tone at work, it felt … weird. …
But this effect may also signal a squeamishness on the part of white people. The folks I talked to before writing this story said it felt awkward to use an affirmatively white emoji; at a time when skin-tone modifiers are used to assert racial identity, proclaiming whiteness felt uncomfortably close to displaying “white pride,” with all the baggage of intolerance that carries. At the same time, they said, it feels like co-opting something that doesn’t exactly belong to white people—weren’t skin-tone modifiers designed so people of color would be represented online? …
It’s worth noting the unpopularity of white emoji tentatively appears confined to the United States. Elsewhere in the world, including the Middle East, white emoji are more common. “This conversation could be completely different in Africa,” Chow-White said.
… White people don’t have to use racemoji or risk denying their identity, as Mukerjee does; the default works fine. Perhaps the squeamishness on the part of whites has more to do with the acknowledgement that only white people hold this special privilege; to use the white emoji is to express a solidarity with people of color that does not exist.
So it becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. When white people opt out of racemoji in favor of the “default” yellow, those symbols become even more closely associated with whiteness—and the notion that white is the only raceless color. But that, of course, is already a foregone conclusion in American society.