The Trouble With Tattoos

These days television is inundated with reality shows and though they are formulaic in their structure, they do manage to cover a wide selection of topics.  You can cherry pick your perfect entertainment whether you’re interested in D list celebrities mending their romantic relationships or watching up and coming tattoo artists compete for fame and fortune. If you happen to be a fan of the latter you’ve no doubt heard of the show Ink Master.


Image result for ink master

 To cover some quick background- Ink Master is a contestant v judge based reality TV show, in which a group of unknown artists is gathered to compete in weekly challenges judged by famous tattoo artists like Dave Navarro and several others. Those who fail challenges are sent home in typical reality TV fashion and ultimately one is dubbed the true Ink Master.  

This is all fine and dandy. It’s a great premise and makes for an interesting show, I mean tattoos are cool right? It’s fun to give into voyeuristic tendencies and watch other people compete and fail daunting challenges, who doesn’t love the sadistic pleasure that comes from laughing at someone else’s failure? Schadenfraude!!

Unfortunately it is impossible to consume un-problematic media these days.  There is one area Ink Master leaves to be desired.  Race.  I know, I know here I go pulling the race card, it seems like there is no one way to enjoy your favorite pass times without someone bringing up race! All this political correctness what’s a person to do? I admit it’s pretty unfair of me to be so accusatory, I mean, you can’t just go around throwing out terms like “racist” and “white supremacy” or “systemic” without proof to back it up.  It’s just like the Nazis  alt-right says, “Source?????”

Image result for race card


Well allow me to explain; the show involves tattoo themed challenges and artists must pick their canvas.  In this case the canvas refers not to inanimate stretched fabric, but to actual living, breathing persons. 

This show is nothing if not consistent, so every time a “canvas” isn’t the palest of white (hooray for purity!) artists break their necks to avoid it….er them.  “You can’t see my work” they cry, often within earshot of their “canvas.” These so called professionals do nothing to hide the dismay when they are stuck with darker subjects with skin tones they have somehow never encountered in their careers prior to. This has never been addressed by judges or hosts on the show and one has to wonder why? The glaring racial aspect of this is glaringly obvious. So why has it never been called out? It’s really just harmless and all about aesthetics right?  I mean these artists aren’t avoiding and complaining about black people  because they’re black they are complaining because their skin is black, VERY big difference here folks.  Not racist what-so-ever.  In fact avoiding black people for their skin color is so not-racist that it’s anti-racism, you’re the racist one racist for even bringing up the word racist. 


This kind of racism is pervasive and dangerous, one if the reasons this goes unchecked is because it presents under the guise of harmless innocence. Herein lies the danger.   The public idea of racism is “I hate niggers” while in a white robe in the south, not something instrumental and systemic and ingrained.  So plenty of white people have no problem perpetuating racism, benefiting from racism, and being racist but if you said “hey that’s racist” they balk and deny and fall on the crutch of white guilt (read: reasons white guilt is not ACTUALLY beneficial).  Gotta love liberalism!

So anyway all these artists with shops and clients etc go onto the show, compete in challenges and very blatantly talk about how pissed they are to get “stuck” with the darker subjects. This non-white PoC is the short end of the stick! It’s wonderful to hear them sob so deeply about this, it reminds us all that dark-skinned PoC aren’t people (dehumanization of black people is a separate beast in and of itself).  And as they are bemoaning that “color just doesn’t show up on black skin!” And “my work and talent won’t be reflected, this isn’t fair I’m doomed to fail!!” all without realizing these are not canvases but actual people I cannot help but think “No, you’re just not talented.”  

We should all very clearly understand, that is what this is a matter of- talent. Nothing else. Somehow when white people cannot do something it is not relevant and when black people possess a skill it is specialized and otherwise necessary. Black aestheticians  can do black hair, they can do white peoples hair too.  As a black woman I can do my own make up, I’ve had black girls do my makeup, black men too.  Yet somehow white MUA’s just can’t work with my skin.  Black models at photo shoots, fashion shows, and commercials alike complain of beauticians who give them pallid complexions and make a mess of their hair. Yet these are professionals?  I’ve seen black artists tattoo black folks and white folks alike.  

You know who most often cannot do black hair? Or makeup on black skin? Or color tattoos on black people? White people .  If you’re in a position where you work with others bodies- a stylist, barber, etc and you are “unfamiliar” with how to do x, y, or z for black people then you just aren’t talented.  It is very simple. If you cannot handle hair other than your own, but have selected a profession contingent upon hair styling then something is amiss. There are 12 year old black girls who wear make up every day, so if you’re a make up “artist” who is 25 years old, you have no products or knowledge of the difference between white and black, you cannot correctly apply foundation for skin tones darker than a paper bag then it is not a matter of comfort  or experience. You just are not good at your job.  I have had to assimilate to default whiteness my whole life so I intimately have a relationship with whiteness, as we all do.  Because white people are people and black people are black people knowledge of our experiences is extraneous.  White is the core curriculum mine is the extra curricular, the unnecessary.  So my experiences and knowledge juxtaposed with whiteness will always be additional and not required.  

To be a master (let’s all temporarily ignore the racial connotations) means to not only be the best, but to be so advanced in your skill nothing poses great challenge, that nothing is impossible. So how can an artist aim to call themselves a master when they cannot do something as simple as tattoo a ‘canvas’ that isn’t lily white? The simple solution is to work harder, become better, and perfect technique.  After all it is misleading to claim you are an expert when your skill says otherwise.  Black tattoo artists exist, as do black people with tattoos, people of all differing skin tones are inked up so the simple solution remains: Do better, get good.

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