Living, Opinions

Let’s talk about Racism in the Tattoo Industry

Learn what colors work on deeper skin tones please.

words by: Alee Kwong
Mar 26, 2021

The conversations we are seeing about racism and the system of injustice have found themselves in the center of everyone’s workplace. It’s no surprise that industries such as fashion, beauty, and wellness are extremely problematic and lack diversity, but an industry whose diversity disappoints beyond measure is one we seldom think about. I’m talking about the tattoo industry. Things such as discriminatory hiring practices, racist imagery, and exclusively showcasing white tattooed skin on Instagram pages are not things someone thinks about immediately when they think about tattoos. Many BIPOC artists are well aware of this issue and up until very recently, have had little space to speak up about how toxic this industry can be.


Similar to how BIPOC are turned away at hair salons because of many stylists’ inability to properly care for BIPOC hair, they are turned away at tattoo shops because the artists don’t know how to properly ink deeper skin tones. Many unskilled artists will say that colors don’t appear well on deeper skin tones, which is false. It’s not that colors don’t appear on deeper skin tones, but rather that deeper tones require bolder colors. All non-Black artists would need to do to combat discrimination amongst their clients would be to take the time to learn what colors work best on deeper skin tones. Practice makes perfect, and working with more BIPOC clients and understanding how to tattoo their skin would be a huge leap in the right direction.


On top of having a more inclusive client list, featuring tattoos done on deeper skin tones on social media would not only showcase the artist’s priority on diversity but would also instill trust amongst other potential BIPOC clients. Tattoos are (mostly) forever and seeing someone with your skin tone having beautiful, fresh ink makes the decision process a lot easier and more comfortable. Considering the fact that hiring more BIPOC artists would help promote further tattoo education in the industry, there is a stark absence of diversity and many of these spaces are almost exclusively white. It’s very rare to see a Black or Brown tattoo artist working in a white-owned tattoo shop and many Black tattoo artists find themselves limited to apprenticeships and job opportunities either at Black tattoo shops or their own freelance endeavors.


We are starting to see more and more independent tattoo collectives pop up that strive to create a safe tattoo space for all marginalized groups. The ultimate hope is that once the amount of these inclusive tattoo spaces start to reach critical mass, we will begin to see the industry shift in the same direction.


Photo via BAPE