some musings on why the tattooing thing seems to get at
August 17, 2012
Now. The standard reasons apply so I won’t say too much about them.
(standard reasons: white people feel entitled to everything, don’t seem to know how to history, can’t figure out either context or nuance, don’t recognize anyone’s boundaries but their own, hate being told anything, etc. etc. etc.)
But I do see certain parallels to how this discussion always goes down to the appropriation of locs (which I ain’t gonna say shit about – but here is a post about it for curious souls).
The parallel I see is how both locs and tattooing are such integral part to white north american counter-culture. And so what we get are not necessarily the people who are racist or white supremacist is more overt ways, but people who often pride themselves on being better than other white people. People who are heavily invested in this notion of resisting the dominant white culture.
These people aren’t necessarily political (I mean, a lot of the body mod community is just this sad community created off of being alternative or whatever and their shared privilege of being able to afford expensive body mods and very little else). But some of the people are. Some of the hordes of people in the white community getting tattoos or other body mods (particularly stretching) are those who are political. Who maybe even identify as radical and thus push white exceptionalism into this realm where they feel better and superior to other white community members.
And just when they are feeling smug and maybe complacent, some jerk like me makes a post asking them to consider the origins of the contemporary western tattoo and how it is inextricably linked to colonialism and suddenly they are realising that they may have been unconsciously participating in a questionable activity. And this questionable activity cannot be taken back because, for most people who get them, tattoos are permanent. So maybe the must defend what they did and why they did it because otherwise they may have to accept that they have visible and permanent marker of their privilege.
This happens like every time I say *anything* about tattoos even though I always and repeatedly say that is essentially pointless to try and get people to stop. And how it is a far more useful approach to simply encourage people not to get appropriative images or styles. Like… I fucking get it. nothing can actually be done about white people getting tattoos. And I don’t actually want to do anything about it because I have better things to do with my time than try and ineffectually challenge a billion dollar industry when I have no resources and certainly not enough time.
Instead, all I’ve been asking is for white people to think about their privilege and the history of tattooing and understand how their actions do occur within a larger colonial context that they need to be aware of. And not even about just tattoos because this is shit that they should be thinking about anyway (or at least the good ones do).
Like. I just want them to think about what it means for them to spend thousands of dollars to seem counter-culture when poc people (particularly Black people) usually cannot get tattoos without people thinking they are criminals. Or how in places with Indigenous tattoo traditions, like say the Maori, are having to fight to retain their practices without stigma (especially with facial tattoos). Or how like in the Philippines the tattooing tradition mostly has died out *because* of white people and their bullshit colonial religions. How white people do this as a nominal act of rebellion while in my culture tattoos were about affirming your place and status in your community. How the act of a white person getting a tattoo has many different layers of meaning but they are still privileged because poc just can’t get them for the same reasons. And even when poc do want to get them, some will be turned away, some will be harassed, many will have to grit their teeth not through pain but through a 1000 different microaggressions, how they’ll have to pay a white tattooist to get something that might be part of their own cultural tradition but they can’t do it that way because white people killed that tradition (or nearly killed it or maybe the person doesn’t know who their people are as a result of colonialism or maybe they don’t have the same connection with their home culture and maybe it is just fucking complicated).
But no. You are too busy getting sailor tattoos without realizing what it even means that sailor tattoos were a thing. How sailors and their tattoos and all the ‘nostalgic’ shit going along with it represents the beginning of american imperialism and shit. how during this period of awesome sailor tattoos america was occupying the Philippines and other Pacific Islands and their sailors were getting tattoos as a way of marking their complicity with this.
However. It appears too much to ask the white community to reflect on this stuff and maybe to some of their own heavy lifting to actually think about their actions beyond their fierce individualism and the “I can do whatever I want without consequences” bullshit they so often reply with.
because. Yeah. You can do whatever you want. And if you think that I don’t realize that this (and other posts by other people) is basically futile because you’ll just continue on doing whatever you want… you’d be mistaken. If you also think i write this to try and convince individuals to do anything, you are also mistaken. If you think that I believe that change is only possible via changing the minds of those who oppress me… you have zero idea what I’m actually about.