In the past few days, while you were scrolling through Twitter to avoid talking to your relatives, you may have seen some headlines about Ellen Pompeo and her emoji backlash. The headlines were mainly “Ellen Pompeo Gets Dragged for Use of Black Emojis.” It might seem ridiculous that someone is getting heat for using a silly symbol on a keyboard but this isn’t just about emojis.
Here’s how it started: A&E announced that it would be changing the name —then ultimately cancelling— their dumbass reality show starring KKK members. The show that profiled members of the Klu Klux Klan and provided a paycheck to hate-filled psychopaths was shut down before it even aired by the network that gave the world Duck Dynasty. This was a win for humanity. Ellen Pompeo tweeted in response to the show’s changes.
Pompeo was called out by a few of her black followers for her use of the brown-skinned thumps up and clapping hands emojis in that tweet. Their concern was that Pompeo is a privileged white woman and these emojis were not intended for her. The Atlantic explored the politics of “racemojis” in piece earlier this year. The Washington Post called out racially diverse emojis for “introduc[ing] race into everyday conversations where it doesn’t necessarily need to be.” The problem with that is if you are a person of colour, you don’t get to escape race. It is introduced into everyday conversations all the time. If emojis had remained solely white, people of colour would be reminded every time we used one that whiteness is the default. When we did use them, we were reminded that even when it came to something as silly as emojis, we still were not represented – especially since most people use emojis as an expression of their personal emotions.
Given the subject matter of Ellen Pompeo’s tweet, you could argue that she was just tweeting black emojis out of solidarity. Or she was just proving that whiteness doesn't always have to be the default. Personally, I didn’t give a f-ck that Pompeo used an emoji that doesn’t reflect her own skin colour. It didn’t offend me. I usually use black emojis because I am actively expressing my own feelings and because we waited for those brown praise hand emojis for too damn long. Throwing up a black fist emoji is empowering for me. It brings me more joy than it probably should. But even if I don’t agree, I respect and understand that another black person might feel ownership over the joy they feel using these emojis and would side-eye a white person for using one. This is where Ellen Pompeo f-cked up. In her response to the emoji backlash, she was defensive and dismissive. She didn’t try to understand or respect the opinions of the people of colour in her mentions.
Don't be a hater I do it because racism is not just a black problem it is all of our problem get it??? https://t.co/GehrNAHIOa— Ellen Pompeo (@EllenPompeo) December 23, 2016
She went on to imply that she believes she has been a victim of reverse racism. She also brought up her black husband and black children as a way to excuse herself of any wrongdoing. Reverse racism is not a thing. Having a black significant other does not absolve a white person of the privilege of systematic racism. If my partner ever has to refer to me and our maybe, distant, distant future children as an explanation for why he’s not prejudiced, he probably f-cked up.
Ellen Pompeo is Meredith Grey. I love Meredith Grey. I don’t think Ellen Pompeo is a racist. I know she didn't mean to offend anyone. This is not about accusing Ellen Pompeo of being a racist. But my love for the character she plays on television does not mean I’m going to give Pompeo a pass for tweeting problematic sh-t. Anthony J Williams calls it the “well-meaning-white-woman syndrome.” In this case, Pompeo missed an opportunity to check her privilege and listen to the concerns of people of colour. Social media can be a cesspool of dumb sh-t but it can also be an educational space. Last year, Kerry Washington was called out for cultural appropriation for using the term "spirit animal." In her response, she thanked her Twitter followers for starting a conversation and apologized. Not every conversation is one worth having but especially if it involves the feelings of a marginalized group of people you don't belong to, I think it's worth listening and doing some research before responding. Ahem, Ellen Pompeo.
I know this controversy is going to get lumped into the “people are too politically correct these days” column so I’ll leave you with a tweet that sums up my feelings on that.
political correctness has become an umbrella term for having any reaction at all to ppl saying words, which i believe is how language works.— Aparna Nancherla (@aparnapkin) December 26, 2016
Attached: Ellen hiking in Los Feliz, California on December 19, 2016.