As a publication focused on the tattoo community and art it is not often that we dip our toe into politics, especially the minutiae involved in an appointment within the Department of Health and Human Services. But what can we say, these are crazy times we are living in, and the appointee has some pretty fucked up thoughts about tattoos.
John Fleming, a former congressman from Louisiana, has been appointed assistant secretary for health technology by the Trump Administration. It’s pretty safe to say that if it weren’t for this article on Buzzfeed we would have gone on living our lives without even knowing Fleming existed, but then we learned that he believes there is a connection between tattoos and drug addiction.
As a nation we are in the grips of a serious opioid addiction crisis, the last thing that we need is a government official (and medical doctor!) spouting off half-cocked theories about how tattoos lead to drug abuse. But that is exactly what Fleming did in his 2006 book Preventing Addiction: What Parents Must Know to Immunize Their Kids Against Drug and Alcohol Addiction:
“Body art comes into play in drug addiction as well, although obviously, not all who have a tattoo are addicts. A sailer (sic) who gets a single tattoo on his arm or an adult woman who has a small butterfly tattooed on her lower abdomen are not necessarily drug addicts or even rebellious — just dumb, at least temporarily! (p. 187)”
Ah, that ol canard claiming that only stupid people, or at the very least people acting stupidly, get tattoos. Fleming then doubles down while asserting that kids that are into body art “tend to get involved in drugs,” before launching into a diatribe against “Goth” and “punk” kids. We're guessing that Fleming probably thinks that all those straight edge "X" tattoos mark where punks like to inject their drugs.
It’s easy to dismiss people when they have beliefs like this, as any reasonable person knows that it’s ignorant to believe that tattooed folks are all idiots and drug users. But we can't simply look the other way when we are talking about a man responsible for making governmental health policy. This level of ignorance is not OK.
Drug addiction is a serious health problem that needs to be dealt with by serious people, not some bozo that thinks a penchant for tattoos equals a love of heroin. How the hell does anyone even hold this idiotic stereotype in 2017? A third of Americans are tattooed — and almost half of millennials — it’s about goddamn time that people like Fleming take their minds out of the Stone Age.
Tattooed people aren’t thugs. We aren’t addicts. We aren’t stupid. We aren’t the worst case scenario in a parenting manual. We’re people, just like you, John Fleming.