These consequences are often not considered by tattooers who impulsively approach skin types they are unfamiliar with. “I feel like that’s because they kind of deem our skin — which [is the case] with a lot of other things, such as our emotions,” says Luna, “To be stronger or tougher than whatever else. They feel like they have to put in even more strength to [tattoo the skin], and it’s really not even [necessary].”
This lack of understanding is what makes it harder for Black and brown people to be safely tattooed. “Tattooing, for me, came from me getting scammed by a fake tattoo artist,” Luna shares. “And then me saying, ‘You know what? If this person doesn’t want to do it for me, I’m going to do it myself.’ And I still hold that to this day. If that artist over there doesn’t want to do it for you or they can’t do it for you, we got people who can do it for you. I feel like this is a ‘for us, by us’ type of situation, and it’s a blessing. There’s a Black Renaissance going on all over again, where there’s a huge uprising of artists who have actually been coming out and putting their foot into the tattoo industry, which I am completely happy about, which I’m proud of. This is something that is home for us. Tattoos are your story. I love the fact that instead of us making the excuse, like, ‘Oh, we don’t have any artists to do this,’ we’re becoming those artists, to do it for our people.”
Based in: Wilmington, Delaware
Oba started professionally tattooing five years ago after leaving the retail industry for good. Now the owner of his own tattoo studio, Oba underscores the importance of not only racial inclusivity but total inclusivity in the realm of tattooing, and how real power and change lie in the hands of the clients, as they choose which artists to support.
“I think of tattoos like a collection,” Oba shares. “People who collect tattoos have to be knowledgeable about where they’re going, who they’re supporting, [and who they are] paying for a tattoo from. These tattooers who are racists or rapists — stop supporting them. You gotta stop supporting the bullshit. I tell everybody: My studio is for marginalized people, but it is for all people. I’ve had women [work at my tattoo studio] who have been through sexual assault at the studios that they came from, I’ve had clients who have been sexually assaulted by their tattoo artists. I make sure I hire people who understand the values that we have and who believe in these values.”
Since the Black Lives Matter movement’s summer surge, Oba has been contacted by a handful of white tattoo artists asking questions about his work, if they can watch him tattoo, if they can even pay to observe him during a session. This inquisitiveness is only the first step in undoing the biases within the industry — the next step is representation. “If [tattoo artists] don’t have your skin tone on their page, they do not respect you,” says Oba. “It is not that they do not do it. It is that they do not care about it. I know plenty of tattoo artists, where the only time you see a brown person’s skin on their page is when this person is an athlete or an entertainer. If they did an amazing tattoo on [you], they don’t care, it’s not going on their page, [and] that means they do not value your skin tone because you’re probably not a pro-athlete or entertainer. But you should be treated like one when you’re getting your tattoo. You should be treated and respected just like everybody else. And if you’re not valuing someone’s skin by [not] posting it, you don’t value their money and you don’t need it.”