Too Many White Tattoo Artists Don't Know How to Tattoo Dark Skin — and That Needs to Change
As a beauty editor who frequently writes about tattoo trends, I spend a lot of time on social media looking through hashtags pertaining to nearly every kind of design you could think of. Abstract tattoos, stick-and-poke tattoos, fine-line tattoos — you name it. One thing I always notice when scouring the thousands of photos online is the huge lack of representation when it comes to artists showcasing their work on Black and Brown people. It's something I've wondered about for a while, but I haven't always been able to wrap my mind around the why.
As I've learned recently, it has a lot do with non-Black tattoo artists not understanding how to tattoo dark skin. This can be attributed to a large gap in the training and education many of these artists get, said Kandace Layne, a tattooist at the Queen Bee Tattoo Parlor in Marietta, GA.
"Tattooing is mostly taught through apprenticeship, so while there are people whose mentors thought it important to teach their apprentices how to tattoo any skin tone, I don't think that was the status quo for a long time," she told POPSUGAR. "Not too long ago in this country, Black and white people weren't even allowed to sit next to each other, so older white tattooers not caring enough to teach their apprentices how to tattoo [people of color] isn't really shocking."
"Not too long ago in this country, Black and white people weren't even allowed to sit next to each other, so older white tattooers not caring enough to teach their apprentices how to tattoo POC isn't really shocking."
In a previous article, Layne said that tattooing darker skin tones doesn't necessarily require more skill, but it does require artists to take a different approach since certain colors and designs may show up differently on different skin tones. Essentially, it's an ongoing cycle that lies within the education process and how tattoo parlors hire their talent: if a shop hires mostly non-Black artists who've never learned how to work on dark skin, those artists won't be able to teach their apprentices how to work on dark skin either, making it harder for Black people looking to get tattoos to find a trustworthy artist to do the job.
This, of course, points to a larger problem of peoples' overall discomfort with Blackness and the tattoo industry's lack of diversity as a whole. Black people consistently deal with erasure from the industry, be it through discriminatory hiring or non-Black artists not showcasing their work on Black and Brown skin to begin with. In turn, this makes the learning process a lot more difficult for Black aspiring tattoo artists.
"It's a lot easier for some people to pretend they don't see color than to acknowledge and accept that someone is not the same color as them," Layne said. "If you don't acknowledge the truth of who someone is, you will not be able to properly meet their needs."
The obvious solution is for tattoo parlors to do a better job of hiring Black and POC artists, but also for them to educate themselves on the key things they should know about tattooing darker skin.
"There are so many talented Black people who want to learn traditional tattooing but aren't welcome in those spaces," Layne said. "It leaves a lot of aspiring tattooers feeling hopeless and many have no other options but to learn through trial and error by themselves. Tattoo apprenticeships in general have always been hard to get, but being Black makes it even harder . . . pretty much impossible in some places."