Ermine Hunte always believed that the tattoo world was inclusive, until she encountered neo-Nazi symbolism and open racism at tattoo conventions … here is her story
words: Ermine Hunte
I was initially afraid to write this play. Partly because I am aware that there is “fatigue” and partly because it is a thorny subject.
I have been into tattoos and tattoo art for as long as I can remember. I also have a love for art and the pin-up style. I have been going to tattoo conventions since Quadrant days in Dunstable. The London International Convention was like my Christmas tattoo! I still have a love for them, but in recent years that love has waned.
Sadly, love doesn’t always go both ways. Why?
This word of the moment: race.
I can already imagine the eye rolling and tapping / clicking away from this article, and it’s ok. These people will always be those people. I don’t talk to them, fuckers. I talk to people who claim tattoo is inclusive.
I had always believed that the tattoo “family” was inclusive. It doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you love tattoos. There’s the old saying, ‘The only difference between tattooed and non-tattooed people is that tattooed people don’t care if you are not tattooed ”. A naive belief, perhaps, but I held on all the same.
At 41, I remember when tattoos were considered the preserve of sailors and criminals. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, footballers and people in the public eye (I hate to call them celebrities) have made tattoos more common. This bleeding means that all sections of society are now tattooed. It brings in people who are neither open nor open-minded.
The tattoo industry has its cliques. This is very evident when you attend conventions. However, there is an undercurrent that some people think the industry should stay white.
In January, Oliver Peck left the show Ink master because of resurfacing black-faced photos. At the time, his apologies weren’t really sincere. And for people with that point of view, it never is. Recently, he published articles against racism following the murder of George Floyd. I believe people can learn and grow, but I still have that part of me that gives it a sidelong eye just in case, as that was a long held view and there are a lot of examples of his point of view there.
I have been to tattoo gatherings / conventions where there was open racism both around and directed at me. From artists who celebrate neo-Nazi symbolism to participants who laugh at my presence. I have been asked why I am here. Why am I not wearing a maid’s uniform. Why I wear 1950s inspired clothes when I should wear slave rags. I was asked if I am only here to sell drugs. The “what’s the point of getting a tattoo if you have dark skin?” question. The “Shouldn’t you be covered / have tribal crap?” question. I was asked why I wanted to be white so badly because I want to be tattooed.
Tattoo artists said it was too difficult to tattoo dark skin or photograph it afterwards. For me, that’s an admission of failure as an artist * shrug *. Because if it was me I would make some fantastic pieces for all skin tones. I would have ring light or whatever is needed to take this photo. Push and strive to be the best tattoo artist, regardless of the client. This attitude, for me, is defeatist. I said what I said!
Tattoo artists really need to remember that just like there is a pink book, there is a Black book. You are losing business. We know that in this industry personal recommendations go a long way. Who would want to spend money on an artist who avoids black skin? Why should black people only go to black artists? Even though we want to support black artists as black people, not everyone fits the style of tattoo that a client might want. There might not be a black polka dot artist on the stage or anything. I do not take away from black artists at all, I am, however, exhausted that we should even be having this conversation in 2020.
Technology, machines, inks have evolved in recent years and it’s up to all of us to advance inclusiveness.
Silence against racism is a complicity. It is not enough to be against racism. You must be actively anti-racist. Racists should never feel comfortable with their racism. If you see or hear it, challenge it. Smiling and nodding to fit in is not only weak, it gives the abuser more confidence. It emboldens them.
Education is the key. Talk to your black friends. If you are an artist, I’m sure a black client would be happy to ditch a bit of skin if that helped you be a more inclusive and experienced artist. Hell yeah I would!
I love tattoos. And I am a woman. And I happen to be black. I am no longer naive but have high hopes for the future of the industry.
Sending love to all