My tattoos do not change the systems at hand, but they do announce to myself and others that I exist in multitudes and no one can take that away from me. By Amari Gaiter If I could travel back in time and
Tattoos were invented by brown and Black people centuries—even millennia—before white supremacy became the dominant global paradigm.You’ve taken the time, done your research, and decided on your tattoo. You’ve saved up money and investigated tattoo shops for the perfect artist to mark your design. You’re excited, nervous, and eager to get started. But the tattooer takes one look at you and says, “Your skin tone is a problem.” Never mind that you’ve seen tattoos on dark skin, and with color no less. Hell, your brown or Black self has beautiful color tattoos which have stood the test of time. Yet here is this artist you respected, admired, and sought out to give them a lot of money to tattoo you, and they’re looking at you like you dragged dog shit into the place. Suddenly you feel sick to your stomach—and not from tattoo nerves. You’ve just been skin-shamed. As a heavily tattooed biracial Sri Lankan American woman, this scenario has played out for me again and again, in context of almost every single tattoo artist with whom I’ve ever consulted. Worse, even brown tattooers who are covered head to foot in designs have frowned at my skin and played that I’m going to be really difficult to tattoo. I’ve had to put my foot down, explain how my particular melanin works and what colors will stick, and hope for the best. Or walk out and start researching artists from scratch.
My tattoos are a living ribbon connecting me to a sisterhood of “bad” or non-conforming South Asian girls who negotiate the same slippery slopes of multi-cultural identity. The first time I ever saw a woman with a tattoo was in Andrew