I define cultural appropriation as the act of taking markers of a non-dominant culture by members of the group in power (whiteness) for their own entertainment, pleasure, expression, and/or financial gain.
Tattooing was practiced in many parts of the globe since the neolithic times, as evidenced by mummified skin found in excavations all over the world. I don't consider tattooing in and of itself culturally appropriative. However, as it evolved from various cultures across the globe, the many styles of tattooing became popular in the West. Today we see styles that came from Samoan, Japanese, Chinese, Native American, African folklore (etc.). I do not think anyone has the right to take any image they want and place it on their skin.
I believe it's best to stick to references and styles that come from your own roots. I believe those tattoos will carry more power in your life. And please just... don't be that person.
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.
When I first started getting tattoos, I enthusiastically jumped to answer this question. I loved to talk about my chest tattoo in particular. It looked like an ecstatic yin yang, swirling inward and exploding outward simultaneously. I would explain to others how it was an “ancient”Maya symbol that stood for their highest god, Hunab Ku, who was associated with the supermassive blackhole at the center of our galaxy. I loved how it looked and how others praised me for my “cultured” aesthetic. -Courtney Demone
"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