Black Tattoo Artists on the Industry’s Diversity Problem

Layne reflects on the behavior of many artists who may have previously participated in racist or culturally appropriative practices, saying that although she was offended, she realized it was simply ignorance. “It’s just ignorance and sometimes you gotta let people be where they’re at, if that makes sense. You can try to get through to some people, but what you tell them might not click for a long time. Either way, I try to plant the seed and move on,” she says. “I am doing what I can and I will continue to do that, and I hope it inspires others to do the same.” Layne feels that the hours that artists spend with their clients could be used to open the conversation. She says, “If white tattooers tattooed BIPOC more often, they probably would have more of an understanding of who we are and what our lives are actually like. We are all unique in our own ways.”

As for Parker, they are continuing to run Ink The Diaspora, while also making plans to open their own shop. (Their studio, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club, is now open in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn.) They say that a lot of folks now have been asking them for tattoo artist referrals, or even wanting them to use the page to call people out for racist or predatory behavior. “I understand that people want me to alert the community, but people can’t just keep DMing me…I don’t want to center my page to be a callout,” they say. Taking on something like this is not an easy feat, and can be emotionally exhausting for one person to deal with. Parker says that they have been setting boundaries because often people engage with them as a platform, and not a person. Like a lot of us, they take breaks when they are feeling overwhelmed, which can be a great form of self-care. They say, “I’m mostly working to build this platform to my intentions, think about things, and introduce more to it.”

Both Parker and Jar emphasize that an inclusive future for the tattoo industry must also go beyond skin color. “A trans person could go to a Black, cis artist and still be misgendered and face discrimination,” Parker says, noting that one of their goals in opening a private studio was to create a safe space for people of all genders and sexualities. Similarly, Jar opened a private studio after hearing from queer clients that they felt uncomfortable in traditional settings. “I wanted to make a safe place for these people,” they explain. “That’s my sole purpose with tattooing. I’m trying to heal my community one tattoo at a time.”

Ultimately, the onus is on everyone giving and getting tattoos to create positive change. For white folks who aim to be allies, it’s your responsibility to not only call out other white people but educate them on how to be better. For Black and Brown folks, we should strive to work on holding each other accountable and not let each other perpetuate these ideals. “I keep telling people,” Jar says. “You know how growing up there are those artists we are constantly looking up to? We always said we wanted to be them — but we’re them now!”

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