This Is Making Me Emojional

The company behind the beloved Emoji characters we’ve all come to know, adore and often think in (yes, I’ll admit it), this week announced a new set of characters will be hitting our keypads soon, with a focus on inclusivity. As I read the news item hastily, I scrolled in hope - looking for the one Emoji I had been missing ever since the addictive and expressive characters became a thing.

The idea of there being one that would now FINALLY accurately reflect me and my husband was exciting. You see, I’m Indian and he is white. Before this new update, all Emoji offered was the option to use a character that didn’t look at all like us.

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Much like Meghan Markle’s conundrum with which box to tick as part of a school census years ago which left her hovering over both the ‘white’ and ‘black’ options, I similarly struggled with finger paralysis when faced with the couple Emoji – a Simpsonesque blonde male and female holding hands👫.

And in the same vein as the famed and revered Duchess, I took to “drawing my own box”, opting for variations of animals, a pig and a monkey to be exact, to depict us instead. But whilst I insisted that this was far more personal anyway, there was something about Emoji only having a blonde couple on offer that niggled at me. I was free to illustrate myself in the coffee and honey coloured tones that more accurately highlighted my ethnicity (following a previous diversity Emoji update), but I couldn’t love the man of my dreams unless I was blonde (or a Simpson, apparently).

Being with, and loving someone, of a different culture, faith and skin colour to you is undoubtedly a beautiful thing and brings with it much learning and growth. But it isn’t without challenges. Over the past five years, we’ve continually navigated spaces with no precedence or example to follow, and often no one else’s wisdom to draw on.

It is hard work to put to rest the racist remarks whispered to your partner by his old friends, or shut out aggressive behaviour from passersby on the street, irked by what we believed to be a discrete display of affection between two people in love. Or the time a date night turned sour when a turbaned fellow Sikh took it upon himself to let us know he was disappointed at my choice of partner (who actually thinks it’s okay to do this?). And the feeling of sadness when my husband’s former colleague felt the need to inform him that being with a brown girl was “such a waste”.

Add into the mix the community expectations of marrying within your religion attached to Indian culture, a media notorious for its racial bias and lack of diversity, and a mainstream cinema narrative showing the same tired love stories between white man and white woman.  It is fair to say that the extent of ‘work’ for us both to grapple with often seemed overwhelming.

Tirelessly we covered new territories, bound by each obstacle that taught (and continues to teach) us more about ourselves and importantly, how the world views our relationship. It was unsurprising at this time that we had no real Emoji to call our own. That was the least of our worries.

What it took was courage. Courage to not seek acceptance or permission. Courage to reject the biases and opinions so ‘kindly’ shared. Ultimately, it took courage to create our own Emoji coupling when the world (and the Emoji keyboard) was telling us we didn’t fit together.

So whilst I’m happy that Emoji is doing more to represent people like me and couples like us, I’m even happier that it shows societal norms around interracial relationships are shifting. Only recently I saw the beautiful wedding of Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas unfold across the media and took pleasure at the thought of how many people it would reach, and minds it may change.

But, do I feel the new emoji is the ideogram that I’d been waiting for, and now, for the first time, I have a character at my disposal that reflects my relationship? After the initial excitement dissipated, and I reflect on how far me and my husband have come, I think I’ll stick with my very own monkey and my pig. 🐵🐷

By Simran Maini-Hoskins