Emojis and the Neoliberal Coding of Diversity

A Monocultural Multiculturalism

  • Amin Heidari Macquarie University
Keywords: multicultural emojis, color categorization, the Vitruvian Man, neoliberalism


This article focuses on the representation of ethnic diversity in multicultural emojis. Multicultural emojis are interpreted in this study as a neoliberal representation of diversity that has reincorporated white supremacist ideology traits, namely color classification, and the Vitruvian Man body design. Thus, I argue that multicultural emojis primarily reflect a typical Western worldview which supports a Eurocentric monoculturalism. Multicultural emojis can, therefore, be interpreted as serving as a set of body depictions whose façade shows diversity while keeping the privilege of the Caucasian body at its core. In the context of this article, code refers to both formulation in the form of symbols and signs, and the signs and signals of communication. The neoliberal coding of the human body, then, highlights how the human body is translated into neoliberal signals or symbols. Neoliberalism values a global market and embraces diversity within this rationale. I argue that instead of trying to eliminate racism by valuing diverse identities equally, neoliberalism lays the ground for the assimilation of diversity into the Western model of subjectivity, which, at its best, offers partial and biased perspectives. To discuss my point, I investigate two visual codes of multicultural emojis: color categorization and the Vitruvian Man body template. I propose that different ethnicities are displayed in emojis through a Jim Crow-type segregative mindset, which defines identity as ‘color.’ At the heart of this thinking, one can find the association of ‘whiteness’ with pureness, and ‘blackness’ with evilness. Second, the body template in multicultural emojis is limited to a Western body-drawing tradition rooted in the sketches of the Vitruvian Man; an illustration that has traditionally represented the Caucasian body model against whose proportions the body of others should be measured and considered normal/abnormal.