the writings on my skin: things you shouldn’t assume about black women with tattoos

November 21, 2016

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see a person of color with tattoos?

If you’re a person with tattoos you have probably seen, witnessed, or been a victim of the badgering questions. Maybe you have endured nonconsensual touch, by a person trying to get a better view of your tattoo. Besides the typical questions of “What will that look like when you get older,” or “Why would you ruin your skin,” ignorance also comes in the form of discrimination and even colorism. I recently googled “Black Women and Tattoos,” and it’s disappointing to see articles from men in the African American community classifying women with tattoos as “ghetto,” “trashy,” and even “masculine,” especially if they had tattoos on the chest and/or forearms. Recently I also listened to a rant from an African American Youtuber who bluntly labeled women as “beasts,” if they had any tattoos on their chest.

As a heavily tattooed woman, these stereotypes and accusations not only exploits women, but setbacks the African American community and the rich culture of tattoos since the times of scarification. Also, women have been objects of sexual exploitation for centuries, especially with body art that unfortunately can attract unwanted street harassment and non-consensual touching. Our art is a part of who we are, therefore women are not for public property or simply for the male graze. African American women with tattoos are not “aliens,” in society and need to be treated as human beings, and not just aesthetics.

By Shaunese Johnson, AFROPUNK contributor

1. Admire afar, but don’t touch.
Just like it’s unacceptable to touch a black woman’s hair, or rub a pregnant woman’s stomach without asking, the same goes for women with tattoos. Women have a right to consent, and a sense of social awareness and bodily space is essential. Tattoos aren’t an open invitation to be grabbed, touched, and caressed at free will.

2. Tattoos don’t define a woman’s work ethic.
Women are now breaking down barriers, especially when it comes to the workplace. Women are now CEO’s, doctors, lawyers, owners, etc. Women who have tattoos shouldn’t be judged as “lazy,” or seen as a potential “nuisance,” to society. Corporate America is not full of people with open and discreet tattoos.

3. Womanism is greatly wanted and needed
Even in the 21st century aspects of the female body are viewed as “unacceptable,” unless it pertains to male pleasure. Black women have become targets of being “masculine,” “classless,” or even “too dark,” to have tattoos. Womanism comes into play, by embracing and addressing a woman’s natural contribution to society without labels and/or stereotypes. Womanism also fights for equality of black woman, especially from the oppression of black men and other outside forces. Even though feminism has been addressed for centuries, the world needs more black women to create their own definition of womanhood. With this being said self-expression comes in various forms, and should therefore be respected at all costs.

When admiring a woman’s tattoos or questioning her reasons, keep in mind and be aware tattooing is an art. A woman’s art regardless of the form, is a reflection of her reality. Learn the art of mindfulness, and instead of creating stereotypes or oversexualizing tattoos, try to understand the meaning behind them without judgement. Black women already suffer enough, therefore be the uplifting force and admire the creativity of her body and her soul.

Picture credit: @whitney.wantsafox by @shotbytheoz