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What Does It Mean To Have An Emoji Acquired By A Museum?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now let's consider the emoji.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Thumbs up, the flamenco dancer.

SHAPIRO: Don't forget the smiling pile of poop.

KELLY: Never forgetting it - emoji have been part of our keyboards, even our language, for years. And now two are in a museum.

SHAPIRO: The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has acquired two emoji - one of someone wearing a hijab and a set of couples with differing skin tones.

KELLY: Yeah, the hijab emoji was the initiative of a 15-year-old Saudi teenager, Rayouf Alhumedhi. She told the BBC in 2016 why it was so important to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAYOUF ALHUMEDHI: People want to be recognized. After adding the different skin tones emojis, there was a huge buzz because finally, people felt represented.

KELLY: Skin tone emoji were added in 2015.

SHAPIRO: Katrina Parrott advocated for that change. Parrott, who is Black, was inspired by a conversation with her daughter, at the time, a junior in college.

KATRINA PARROTT: She came home one weekend, and she said to me, Mom, it sure would be nice to be able to send an emoji to my friends that look like me. And I said, oh, really? That sounds like a great idea. And I said what's an emoji? (Laughter). And she showed it to me on the phone, and they were all Caucasian.

SHAPIRO: That led her to develop her own emoji app, iDiversicons. And she lobbied the group that controls emoji to accept different skin tones.

KELLY: The Smithsonian's Andrea Lipps says the interracial couple and the hijab emoji - that they build on that. They give more people a way to say you or I.

ANDREA LIPPS: They're almost codifying themselves and giving themselves personhood in this new language, which has been blossoming with digital text.

KELLY: So how does a museum acquire an emoji, you may be asking. Well, Lipps says new emoji are proposed with a rendering of what they should look like.

LIPPS: We collected the guidance images themselves with the original work from those proposals.

SHAPIRO: Katrina Parrott was not involved with the acquisition, but this and a new documentary called "The Emoji Story" continue what she fought for.

PARROTT: We wanted to represent the world, and it just warms my heart that we were able to do that.

SHAPIRO: And she says her daughter who came up with the skin tone idea is really, really proud.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "TEENAGE BIRDSONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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