meaning and tattoos
January 7, 2013
A recent tumblr post about how you can get tattoos without them meaning anything so utterly highlights just how much the roots of tattooing has been white washed and sanitized by whiteness.
In most of the IaoPoC cultures where tattooing is practiced, it is usually a very meaningful tradition. What, exactly, having a tattoo will mean will depend, obviously, on the specific tradition.
Now… when white people started getting tattoos, it was mostly for the novelty. The americana tradition started when sailor tattoos started accruing meaning. Or when prison tattoos served a similar purpose. Or when gang tattoos were similarly done.
(note, how with the exception of the sailors, the were several new american traditions of tattooing that were mostly PoC centric and, like older traditions, served specific functions within their communities)
The only ‘tradition’ to not really do this was the white american working class. Where, more than anything, the tattoos served as a sign of class but not much else.
When white middle class people began to adopt the practice, they started creating meaningful but personal narratives to their tattoos, in part to distinguish themselves from the ‘low’ class practice of getting tattoos just because. (it looks cool, you were drunk and with friends, or whatever reason)
These personal and private tattoo narratives are what we see on shows like LA Ink or whatever.
Now. We could understand this particular context as being the target for a statement like:
Contrary to many beliefs, you don’t actually need a fucking life story reason to get a tattoo.
And, sure, I have not much else but a massive contempt for white people and the tattoos they get.
I also have tattoos that I got because I just think they are pretty. Or that I got for some particular reason that isn’t really relevant anymore. I’ve also done my fair share of rolling my eyes at white tattoo narratives. I get it.
But statements like the above merely erase history and firmly normalize that white middle class practice. That deprecating moment of ‘zomg, so silly! that tattoo can’t represent your life! lolz” essentially spits in the face of all the IaoPoC tattooing traditions where, yeah, the tattoos actually do tell your life story. Where they convey something meaningful about you, your life, your status and relationship to your community, your culture, etc.
And, maybe, sometimes are just pretty pictures on skin.
(also… can we really not talk about how the person who wrote that phrase is a white british d00d? how this coming from him is disgusting colonial shit?)