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It Cuts Deep: Understanding Colorism as a Weapon in Tattooing

It Cuts Deep: Understanding Colorism as a Weapon in Tattooing

Stories3 min Read

In this virtual panel, Black tattooers and collectors discuss the lack of representation in the industry.

It Cuts Deep is a virtual panel diving into some of the tough conversations the tattoo industry needs to have in order to truly embrace inclusivity and equality. Via the Ink the Diaspora page, these artists and collectors are “dissecting the homogeneity and limited spectrum of black skin within the tattooing community as it relates to colorism, complexion, and representation. The media plays an important role in the ways tattooers often prioritize specific shades of Blackness; ranging from beige to...well, beige.”

Buy tickets here. Tickets also include viewing for the 2019 panel Ink the Diaspora hosted at Welcome Home.

It Cuts Deep - virtual panel via Ink the Diaspora - graphics by Rush Jackson #InktheDiaspora

While 2019 saw the curation of artists to speak on The Experience of the Black Tattooer in-person and streamed online, 2020 has brought people together thanks to digital means. For this virtual panel, Tann, founder of Ink the Diaspora, and Nyasa, a tattoo collector, will be moderating the conversation with five other tattooers who share their take on the industry, including specific issues regarding Black representation, inclusion, and particular behaviours that continue or directly support colorism.

For this panel, Jaylind Hamilton, Doreen Garner, Jalen Frizzell, Nish Rowe, and Obsidian, all came together to weigh in on a variety of topics pertaining to the reality of the industries lack of diversity and, often, refusal to change inherent systems that are anti-Black. Below are some quotes from the panel that illustrate some of the many ways that artists and collectors are being discriminated against, tokenized, or placated through social media virtue signaling. But, as Jaylind says in the quote below, there are many ways that white people who are a part of the industry can help make a difference by bringing Black artists and collectors to the forefront.

One of the many difficult things about conversations such as these is that there is so much ground to cover; there are just so many small and large ways that colorism, racism, and inequality are reflected in the industry as a whole. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a white tattooer saying, “My technique doesn’t work on Black skin.” is a coded chasm of underlying ignorance and issues. Rather than admitting that the tattooer isn’t educated on tattooing melanated skin, the responsibility is placed on the client, making their existence an issue, rather than the tattooer's lack of experience. It’s off hand comments, gestures, and social media manipulation that further pushes diversity to the lower levels of concern. Doreen points out that even the "type" of Black bodies some artists are choosing to work with or post in their social feeds, are still within the confines of what is socially acceptable within aesthetics. It's not true acceptance; it's a filtered and continual white-washed version of acceptance.

Even white tattooers who simply posted the BLM black square seemed to exonerate themselves of doing further work to support the cause or, after a few months, no longer made inclusivity a mindful part of their day to day existence or digital presence. In and of itself, that is a privilege: to forget your privilege. Compounded with the lack of dedication to putting in the work to further true equality, it’s a terrifying negligence. Social media plays a huge part in the conversation of inclusion and representation for BIPoC; Jalen points out that even photography itself was built on white skin and white aesthetics which is the backbone of platforms like Instagram. For those of you who aren't aware of photographic history and built in racial bais, you can check that out here.

It’s with great thanks to artists and collectors such as those involved in It Cuts Deep who have these conversations and tirelessly remind others of the responsibility to enact change, even at the deepest, oft unseen, roots of racism. To learn more, head over to Ink the Diaspora to grab a panel viewing ticket.


Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator for Tattoodo I am here to support you 🌻 IG: @lathe.of.heaven

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