For These With Darker Skin, Obtaining The Right Tattoo Artist Can Be A Struggle

Diverse skin tones call for distinct tattooing approaches. That can make items tough on tattoo artists and their customers alike.


Tattoos have long ceased to be the mark of a rebel. Nearly half of all millennials have a tattoo, according to a 2016 Harris poll. And even although tattoos have turn into a lot more widespread, several with darker skin struggle to uncover tattoo artists who know how to function on their skin varieties. As NPR’s Parth Shah reports, diverse skin tones call for a different tattooing strategy.

PARTH SHAH, BYLINE: Receiving a tattoo can be nerve wracking. But Osuna Afrik (ph) is no newbie.

OSHUN AFRIK: This is my 35th tattoo.

SHAH: Afrik lounges on the sofa at Pinz and Needlez Tattoo shop in Washington, D.C. While she sips her morning coffee, shop owner Christopher Mensah is busy sketching out Afrik’s 35th tattoo. Afrik has dark brown skin. For the tattoo to show up on her, Mensah says the design requirements to be huge and bold.

CHRISTOPHER MENSAH: Let’s say if somebody came in and got – and they wanted to get a tattoo of a heart with, you know, an initial in it the size of a dime, anything that is a dime size that you may possibly do on white skin you could have to do a quarter or half-a-dollar size on dark skin.

SHAH: Mensah says he’s heard a lot of myths about functioning on dark skin. Some clientele think there’s a special type of ink for dark skin – there isn’t. And it’s not just consumers with misconceptions. He says it really is other artists, as well.

MENSAH: The occasions that I was functioning in white tattoo shops, what I would hear a lot was dark skin is a lot more tough to tattoo. Nevertheless, from my experience, I just think it is softer.

SHAH: What do you imply by that.

MENSAH: When I say it is softer, we tend to keloid a lot more and scar.

SHAH: A keloid is a raised scar, and people with African ancestry are a lot much more likely to get keloids in response to a tattoo.

AFRIK: My keloids are really little, though, compared to some other men and women I’ve observed.

SHAH: Afrik says when she’s looking for a tattoo artist, she studies their portfolio and pays attention to who they’ve tattooed.

AFRIK: If you see only light-skinned individuals or – or white skin, I never want to – simply because I don’t know how they’re going to operate with my skin, so – I am a little darker.

TYLER BREWER: Tattooing dark skin opposed to light skin or any distinction in skin kind is a distinct world.

SHAH: That’s Tyler Brewer, who functions at Kensington Tattoo in Maryland. Brewer is white and says artists should find out how to tattoo all skin sorts. But he says he’s met folks who feel otherwise.

BREWER: I have seen artists fairly a lot give the blow-off to consumers since they had been different, different becoming a distinct color. I believe individuals rationalize their racism in tattooing and their lack of capacity.

SHAH: Back at Pinz and Needlez, artist Christopher Mensah is eagle-eyed and focused on Oshun Afrik’s left forearm. Mensah says the lack of info offered for dark-skinned people looking for tattoos is linked to the lack of people of colour working in the enterprise. He says there wasn’t a community for him when he started tattooing 20 years ago.

MENSAH: At the time, there weren’t many – well, I did not see any black tattoo artists.

SHAH: Afrik says the neighborhood is increasing. Most of her tattoos have been carried out by folks of color. Right after sitting for an hour in the hot seat with Mensah, tattoo number 35 is finished. It is a Sankofa bird, an Adinkra symbol that translates to go back and get it.

AFRIK: I am so excited to show it off, I’m not putting my jacket on. I am going to go – I am going to walk around the city with a tank top in November. I am (laughter).

SHAH: Not so quick, even though. Prior to she leaves the shop, Mensah bandages her forearm so it doesn’t get infected. She’ll have to wait a couple of hours prior to she can show off her new tattoo. Parth Shaw, NPR News.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates On His Function And The Painful Process Of Obtaining Conscious

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks onstage at the 2015 New Yorker Festival last month.

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks onstage at the 2015 New Yorker Festival last month. Anna Webber/Getty Photos for The New Yorker hide caption

toggle caption Anna Webber/Getty Photos for The New Yorker

It has been fairly a year for journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates:

  • He was the recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, a so-named Genius award
  • His long-type pieces in The Atlantic magazine have been extensively circulated and discussed
  • His memoir, Amongst the Planet and Me, a blunt but lyrical account of how he navigates the planet as a black man, has been one of the most talked about nonfiction books of the year
  • Earlier this week came yet another honor, the National Book Award for nonfiction.

All of which has taken location at a time when this country has been deeply engaged in questions about race.

Coates spoke with All Items Considered’s Michel Martin by telephone just as he was about to return to Paris, exactly where he and his household have been living for the past handful of months.

Interview Highlights

About dedicating his National Book Award to Prince Jones

I met him at Howard University. We had been buddies — not ideal of buddies, but we were buddies — and he was killed in 2000 by a Prince George’s County police officer who followed him from Prince George’s County by means of Washington into Virginia and shot him mere yards from his fiance’s property….

When Prince died, practically nothing happened. Practically nothing occurred. The officer was not punished by his department, he wasn’t prosecuted. … And I had a young son at the time, and so it genuinely, really bothered me — I’d always been aware about what could come about to me, but I was quite, truly really a lot worried about my son.

And so for 15 years I just stewed on this. And it really, genuinely bothered me that men and women did not don’t forget this young man’s name. He just did not deserve to die the way he died, and it was totally forgotten….

There are two burdens of racism in this nation. The 1st is the actual burden — you know, sort of socioeconomics that we see all the time, wealth gap, life expectancy, death rate, these sorts of factors. But then there is an additional portion of this that people ask you to accept, and that is the notion that somehow this is not really tied to our long history — genuinely our 250-year, virtually 400-year history — of policy directed toward African-Americans. That somehow this is our fault, or partly our fault….

Amongst The World And Me is my total rejection of that idea. It may nicely be our responsibility, but it definitely is not our fault. Prince Jones bears no fault in how he was killed. None. Absolutely none.

He was not just killed by the officer, he was killed by the heritage of this country, which has for centuries dealt in the criminalization of black people. And that allowed for the presumption that the son of a radiologist, a Howard University student with a daughter who had just been born, about to be married — that this man was somehow a criminal. It allowed for police officers to track him via 3 municipalities and kill him.

I just will not say that that was okay. I will not create that off as a error.

About the popularity and influence of his function

There is some group of Americans who are truly, really curious to realize how we ended up at this point, where each week it seems like you can turn on your Tv and see some sort of abuse becoming heaped on black people. But I don’t draw the conclusion that it’s, say, a crucial mass of Americans who will go forth and create some sort of extended-term policy.

I would like that to be true — that’d be lovely — but I don’t consider 1 must confuse the book-purchasing audience, the audience that reads The Atlantic, with the complete nation. It really is a large nation.

About how he writes

I attempt to be as direct as I possibly can. I do not attempt to make individuals uncomfortable I feel that my requirements in terms of art and journalism always have necessitated my discomfort. The method of getting conscious for me was a really, really uncomfortable, disturbing and at times physically painful method. And so that is the common to which I write, due to the fact it was what I’ve experienced more than my time. …

You take a function like, a book like Amongst The World And Me. As I mentioned, I’ve been pondering about that for 15 years. Reparations and stuff I’ve accomplished for The Atlantic mag, these are projects that I’ve actually had — they come from living in the society and pondering and reading about factors for a period of time. …

I just went on this extended factor about Prince, but see, I spent like years researching what occurred in that case, you know what I imply? I talked to his mother, I met Prince’s, his daughter, I’ve met his sister … I knew Prince. Even as I sound strident in my rhetoric, it is in fact rooted on having in fact carried out some reporting about it.

On if he feels there is stress for him to be a sort of oracle of race

I’ve been really, extremely careful to inform men and women what I am qualified to talk about and what I’m not certified to talk about. And some of that has to do with black folks — black knowledge is huge and it is nuanced and it really is broad, and no a single particular person ought to be the spokesperson for that expertise, or no 1 individual ought to be the oracle or be the articulator. And as I’ve told young individuals about the country, they must be skeptical of men and women who attempt to appoint themselves as that. I do not want that job at all.

I feel you have a quantity of talented African-American writers — some young, some a lot more skilled — who’ve done just brilliant operate. Operate that I’ve frankly depended on in my own writing. [Writers] who I believe, taken together, can give us some sense of the nuance and the texture of the black encounter. But you do not genuinely want to get that from a single person’s operate, and you surely never want to get it from 1 book.

On whether or not he nonetheless fasts on Thanksgiving

No! No, no! Even though in current years I’ve been pondering about bringing it back.

My dad, he preferred to use Thanksgiving as a day of reflection. And the major thing we had to reflect on was what had happened to the Native Americans, occurred to the land that we live on now. And we would really consider about that. And I hated it when I was a kid — absolutely, completely hated it.

And then I stopped doing it as I got older. And then I had a family members and I stopped undertaking it then, since I thought loved ones traditions were very important. But as my son has gotten older — he’s 15 now — and seeking at my own function, and how critical history and reflection and memory is in my own operate, I never know that it was such a negative idea. So I’ve often believed about going back to it.

On his father’s reaction to his writing

This goes back to the 1st book — my rule has constantly been that he must understand what I am undertaking ahead of I do it. Simply because our relationship, to him and my mom, is way more crucial than any book. And so he’s seen every thing before it actually came out.

With the first book I told him what was going to be in there ahead of I even wrote it, and asked him, was he cool with it? He mentioned yeah, and I showed it to him. … He study the second book as well. He had modifications, but none of the modifications have been about him. They have been about items that he believed could make the book better. He’s always been extremely, quite firm in the notion that it’s my story.

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