In recent years there has been much speculation behind who the turban emoji actually represents. While many ethnic groups across the world lay claim to representing the ‘actual’ turban emoji, much of the controversy centers around South Asia where two primary groups claim to be the one.
The Sikh and Rajasthani communities have taken a particular interest in the turban emoji. One Rajasthani man interviewed in Jaipur who claims to be a king and owns several forts in Rajasthan exclaims, “The turban emoji mimics the exact style of turbans worn in our weddings”.
While the claims are still highly disputed, many South Asians say they are indifferent to the controversy as they don’t wear turbans. These individuals, located in largely non-turbaned regions of India are using the emoji at a growing rate. According to the Pew Center, between 19.4% and 19.7% of your distant cousins you see twice wishing you a Happy Diwali or Eid-Mubarak, used the turban emoji. This number is expected to rise alongside the population growth rate of the South Asian population.
White people, who are the primary users of black women GIFs, also seem to be using the turban emoji at alarming rates. When we interviewed Kyle, a self-proclaimed WASP who has a particular interest in the daughters of South Asian engineers in suburbia, he revealed some strong opinions on the subject matter. “I’ve only had South Asian girlfriends, I love South Asian culture, why can’t I use the turban emoji?”
When we pointed out that this was a male emoji and had little relevance to his previous ex-girlfriends, Kyle looked both ways and responded nervously, “Don’t tell my parents but I like South Asian men too.”
FCN recently reached out to well-known South Asians including Akshay Kumar and Manmohan Singh. Akshay Kumar said, “Big fan, big fan – watch Singh is King,” thinking this was an advertising opportunity.
When asked about the whole ordeal, Manmohan Singh said, “Wind turbines are providing much needed green energy in India and helping the economy.” When we clarified that the subject matter was turbans and not turbines, he claimed the turban emoji was a true mockery of South Asian culture but clarified he would rescind all statements if the turban emoji had a blue turban and grey hair.
Apple was contacted in late March and commented that its attempt to be inclusive with a comical stereotypical image was ‘problematic’. However, Tim Cook said in a statement, “We wanted to thank every South Asian engineer who works in the Cupertino area of California and believe me, there’s a lot of H1-B visa holders in this area, am I right?”
After the awkward silence, Cook changed the topic to Diljit Chopra, the programmer who created the turban emoji. When we reached out to Mr. Chopra he shooed us away from his office saying he “doesn’t really care about the controversy.”
Other programmers for Apple said other ethnic groups are also being transformed into emojis. We saw some image drafts – maybe they should just stick with this one.