Tatttoos and Stigma; Who Needs to Make the Next Move?

In this article, I once again would like to talk about tattoos, tattoo culture and stigma. However, despite how this is also a message to my fellow tattoo lovers and collectors out there, non tattooed people may learn something as well. I also hope that any readers may see, that what I propose here, can easily be transferred and used in context with other subcultures as well.

When it comes to stigmatisation and discrimination, in regard to tattoos, modern society (at least in most industrialised and western nations) have come quite a long way. More and more people view it for the tool of self-expression and art form that it is, now a days, we are a far cry from the days where a person was automatically viewed as a criminal for having tattoos.

However, as most people who have tattoos, especially whom might consider themselves heavily tattooed, the stigma persists. Many scientists within the social sciences, as well as the people wearing the artwork themselves, recognise that many people still have far to go, when it comes to accepting tattoos fully.

Now the goal may never be to have tattoos be 100% accepted by everyone, and it seems like an impossibility. But it would be amazing if we could get that last nudge, towards tattoos being more accepted in the work space and within modern society, to degree where we may no longer see people fired for their artwork, or withheld from certain positions, just because people assume certain character trades about them, from them being tattooed.

But who should make the next move? How do we get over this last little hurdle?

If we look in the direction of the social sciences and especially sociology, we can look to the old wisdom of Erving Goffman, whom till this day, is viewed as the foremost scholar, regarding stigma. It is clear from his research, that of course society must work on their part, when it comes to learning about tattoos and the people that love and wear them. However, the best way they can learn, is by us who wear them, teaching them and going forward with a good example.

This means that when we encounter stigma and discrimination, we need to evaluate within the given context, if it is worth getting angry and taking up the fight. In many cases it may not be, if we look at what Goffman and the researcher Beverly Yuen Thompson (2018) say. Despite how justified we may feel, when someone feels the right to grope us without knowing us or calls us ugly to our face or bars us from participating in something for our artwork, to get angry, aggressive and defensive, it may not be the right thing to do.

You may now be puzzled and think; “but I am not going to let no one put me down and treat me badly, I want to stand up and fight those ignorant assholes”. But therein lies the key to it all, they are IGNORANT, either willfully or by coincidence, most people perpetuating stigma and discrimination about tattoos, are often ignorant of what tattooed people are, in fact, like and what tattoos are and mean today.

Let’s reach out, let’s teach and let’s be better:

So, what do we then as tattooed people do? Well as Goffman and Thompson (especially Thompson and myself personally as a fellow sociologist with expertise in tattoos) would suggest, we need to go forward with a good example, we need to be large and lenient, forgiving even. Instead of getting angry we need to take the opportunity, when they present their ignorance (at least when they are not immediately being violent in any way, then of course you defend yourself), and educate them on what their mistakes are and what they assume wrong, about us and our tattoos.

I would like to give an example from my own personal experience, of how I handle an experience most of  us with lots of visible tattoos, know all too well (especially tattooed women sadly), when a stranger feels the right to grab you and grope your tattoo (because they find it cool or whatever). Now, I could either get angry and scold them and get aggressive, because they did grab me after all…

But what I instead tend to do, is take the opportunity, to explain to them, why it is wrong for them to do what they did. Teaching them, though it may seem obvious to us (and hopefully most people), that you can’t just grab people because they look different, and a lot of tattooed people will feel violated and very angry, offended etc. when you just grab and grope their tattoos like that.

Surprisingly, the reaction I 9 times out of 10 (maybe even more often than that), get after teaching them this and informing them, often goes along the lines of: “Oh I never thought about that, man good thing you told me this, I will remember this next time”.  This I have payed it forward, hopefully moved someone’s perceptions of people with a lot of tattoos and hopefully prevented some stranger tat groping in the future, all at the same time.

Final comment:

Now I know it can be difficult, especially if you sometimes run into a lot of ignorance in a very short amount of time. But I think if we can just do our best, to go forward and show them all their prejudice and negative assumptions are wrong. Then we can really take out a big chunk, of the still remaining Stigma.
You don’t have to always go and teach people and try to save them from their ignorance. But I hope you guys will keep this in the back of your mind in the future, so that you may sometimes, when the perfect opportunity arises, change someone’s mind and thus pay it forward for all of us, in the tattoo community.

Stay awesome people, love Tattoo Logia.

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