After pop star Conan Gray received criticism for using tan emojis, he clarified that he is mixed race and posted photos of his skin color
- Conan Gray, 21, is a YouTube sensation turned pop star. His debut album, Kid Krow, was released in March.
- Gray recently faced backlash online for using a tan emoji in a TikTok comment.
- "I apologize to anybody who was hurt by my use of emojis that you believe are too dark for me to use," Gray tweeted on Thursday in response to the criticism. "I am mixed race and I chose to use the emojis that I felt best represented my skin tone."
After screenshots and criticism of Conan Gray's past emoji usage began to circulate online, the Gen Z pop star stepped in to address the matter in a series of tweets on Thursday.
"Many of you have brought to my attention my use of tan emojis," Gray wrote. "I apologize to anybody who was hurt by my use of emojis that you believe are too dark for me to use. I am mixed race and I chose to use the emojis that I felt best represented my skin tone."
The controversy centered on Gray's decision to use a tan-skinned emoji to represent himself in a comment on TikTok. Many fans and followers felt the skin tone Gray selected for the emoji was "significantly darker" than his actual skin color.
"Most of you have never met me in real life and are unaware of how I look in person," Gray continued in a follow-up tweet. "I am not pale. I am not white. I am mixed race, and I was only trying to find an emoji with a skin tone that felt most accurate to me and my background."
—conan gray (@conangray) July 23, 2020
The five skin tone options we still have today were introduced by the Unicode Consortium in 2015, along with the ability to change an emoji's skin tone, in a long-overdue effort to accommodate an increasingly diverse world. The five shades were created based on the Fitzpatrick scale, a six-point numerical system for classifying human skin color.
In an episode of The Verge's podcast "Why'd You Push That Button?" reporters Ashely Carman and Kaitlyn Tiffany spoke to researcher Alexander Robertson about his 2018 study on how people use emoji skin tone modifiers on Twitter. According to Robertson's findings, "the vast majority of skin tone usage" matched "the color of a user's profile photo," and generally, "people do tend to use these emoji to match themselves quite closely." Even so, Robertson went on, "five skin tones for emoji just isn't enough."
"The difference between skin tone four and five for emoji is much more different compared to between two and three or three and four," Robertson told Carman during the interview. "This means that there's a whole load of people who probably fall somewhere between four and five who aren't being represented."
In an essay for the Daily Dot, writer Zara Rahman noted, too, that five, fixed skin tone options will always fall short of Unicode's stated goal for the project.
"Unicode's intent may have been good — to be inclusive of the experiences of their ever-growing user base — but this was always going to be an impossible game to win," Rahman wrote. "Emoji skin tones are essentially like real life: White people still get to be the default, while many people of color feel left out of such rigid representation."
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