For almost a year now, New York-based freelance writer Rhianna Jones has been signing a lot of her emails with, "insert Afro emoji here."
That's because there is no Afro hair emoji. Jones, 28, hopes to change that.
She has teamed up with designer Kerrilyn Gibson, 25, to create an Afro hair emoji prototype and started a petition on change.org to include the Afro hair emoji on the emoji keyboard.
"I think an Afro should be included because there's an entire community of people — black, Afro-LatinX diasporic ... the Jewfro — there's just a lot of people that have hair that grows upward and spherically and defies gravity," Jones said. "There's been a big dearth and lack of representation of natural hair and Afro hair in the media. I think the lack of Afro hair in our keyboards is a subtle but constant reminder of that."
Currently, there are more than 2,800 emojis recognized by the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit which acts as the gatekeeper for emojis. Over the years, as people have complained about a lack of diversity, new emojis have been added — there are now more diverse representations of different skin tones, various forms of dress such as hijabs, and nonheteronormative relationships.
Once a year, the Unicode Consortium inducts about 70 new, approved emojis. The group, which includes executives from top tech companies like Apple, Facebook and Google, meets quarterly and considers proposals for new emojis. For 2019, there are 59 new emojis on the way — such as a deaf person signing, interacial couples, and a mechanical arm.
On Sunday, Jones submitted the proposal for the Afro hair emoji to be included in 2020.
"It's a pretty lengthy process, so I hope that they're listening and I hope that they know that we all really want this," she said.
The emoji that she and Gibson designed is named Frolange, after the singer Solange Knowles, who Jones said has "absolute fly girl hair." Jones added that Gibson designed the Afro hair emoji to "take up as much space as you can in the very, very minute parameters of an emoji."
The design comes in all different skin and hair tones, and tries to be inclusive of all types of hair that grows spherically and upward.
"What's difficult about Afro hair is you really can't encapsulate the multi textural complexities — it comes in all different colors and coils and shapes," Jones said.
Both Jones and Gibson are women with Afros who want to see themselves better represented in the media. For Jones, the inspiration for the emoji came just after she celebrated Black History Month in February when she realized that instead of writing "insert Afro emoji here," in her messages, she wanted to have an actual Afro emoji to use.
"I just realized that I shouldn't have to do that anymore, because it's more than just an emoji — it's about people being able to see themselves reflected in the conversations they're having not only on screen but in real life," she said. "I really just think this is a small step towards making our hair and our culture part of the universal language of beauty and of life. "