Some thoughts on cultural appropriation in tattooing:


Cultural appropriation is when white people take something from a non-white culture for themselves. Just because it pleases us. 


It happens in tattooing all of the time. It happens in my studio very rarely or not at all because I am extremely careful with what I will tattoo and on whom. 


An example of cultural appropriation in tattooing are the all too common Chinese characters, (or kanji) tattoos and the popular joke that instead of "strength" or such, it probably says "hot soup". Other examples could be Native American imagery such as a dream catcher or a headdress, or a zia, Maori designs gotten while visiting Hawaii... 


Cultural appropriation happens for different reasons, and I know most people who do it mean well. A lot of white people I've spoken to about this will say that they are not appropriating but rather appreciating that other culture. Maybe they traveled somewhere or had a significant experience with someone from that culture. 


It doesn't mean you should go ahead and get that tattoo. Tattoos aren't jewelry. Jewelry can also be culturally appropriative, but that you can take off. When you take someone for yourself that doesn't belong to you, that wasn't created for you, it's not going to sit well. In fact it has bad vibes. In fact, it's tacky AF and it makes you look like THAT white person. You will regret it. 


Do only white people do it?

Of course non-white people also get tattoos from cultures that aren't their own. It's less harmful, however, because whiteness is at the center of world power. White people think ourselves to be the standard of humans, taking away other people's land and rights throughout history. It's time to be more thoughtful and less self-centered. 


White people have the most power and must be careful with exercising that power, treading lightly, respectfully.

It's time to stop taking whatever we want from people with less power. It's time to stop being bullies. 


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Below you will find a few articles that speak specifically to cultural appropriation within tattoo culture. If you hold white skin privilege, and are thinking of having a symbol/a language/an image tattooed that does not come from your specific roots, or is not universal, please read them. 


Great Article by Courtney Demone, a queer white transwoman:

A more general article on the basics of cultural appropriation:

"You are free to present your body in whichever way you choose, and your tattoos are your own choice. However, others also have the right to be offended and express this. If you decide to get a tattoo representing a minority culture, you should be prepared for this possibility.  Although your intention is not to be racist, others may see it as such." -Ally Richards


If you are in the white majority, it is not for you to decide what is and is not offensive to other groups. Inform yourself of the history and significance around your chosen design and discuss this with members of that community. 


 Click above to read the rest of the article.