Covering Hate: What Tattoo Artists Are Doing To Fight Racism

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Jul. 2 2020, Published 4:10 a.m. ET

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In October 2019, I met Billy White of Zanesville, Ohio at the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame ceremony. He wasn’t being inducted into the Hall of Fame – though many folks are hoping he will someday. – but we heard the story of what he’s been doing to help fight racism in his small town.

What Billy White And Red Rose Tattoo Artists Are Doing

Billy White tattoo artist
Source: Image Courtesy of the Ohio State Highway Patrol – Billy White giving a brief speech at the ceremony on October 10, 2019

After everyone at the ceremony watched the short documentary about Mr. White’s efforts entitled, Beneath the Ink, he joined those of us accepting awards that day for a few photo ops. He also went out of his way to thank each of us for what each inductee has done for women and marginalized folks around the country.

Before meeting Mr. White, I had never thought of folks having swastikas, KKK symbols, and other signs of hate and bigotry on their bodies. I knew of symbols tattooed on my own people during the Holocaust, but I naively assumed no one would choose to bear such hateful signs today, permanently on their bodies. I also assumed that all states have legislation to prosecute hate crimes, but not all do.

47 states have prosecution in place for hate crimes, but Wyoming, Arkansas, and South Carolina still don’t. Yet, another thing about which I was naïve.

Mr. White and his fellow artists at Red Rose Tattoo in Zanesville are part of a movement of artists who are covering up hate symbols for free for folks who are ready to change the message they publicly display on their bodies.

People with any of these racist, hateful symbols can set an appointment with White or one of the other participating artists. Each client receives a consultation on how the former ink will be covered up. Some have used skin shades to cover imagery while others have chosen new symbols of hope, love or freedom to cover up what used to be the opposite or simply chosen attractive images to replace the hate.

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This is done for free.

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Other Artists Are Doing the Same Thing Around the Country

In recent weeks, with racial tensions rising to newer heights in my adulthood than I can ever recall, there’s been more and more artists around the country associated with this movement.

Galaxy X Art Collective, a tattoo shop in Murray, Kentucky wrote on Facebook that it would, “like to extend the offer to change your future in becoming a better person” by covering up gang, hate-related, and racist tattoos for free, no questions asked.

The invitation is for folks who are ready to reverse their hatred but simply haven’t had the cash for a cover-up tattoo.

The two artists, Ryun King, and Jeremiah Swift, have since been flooded with requests for removal of Confederate flags and other symbols that demonstrate hatred. They’ve seen fathers ashamed to remove their shirts in front of their kids because of swastikas and Iron Crosses or other Nazi symbols plastered across their backs.

In Maryville, Tennessee, Jenni Rivera, another tattoo artist offering the same service for free, has been swamped with requests for these removals. She’s overwhelmed with responses and holds to the same no questions asked policy. “I’m booked out for the rest of the year doing one a week,” she told TODAY during an interview. “And I’ve got 150 people on the list for next year, and I still have 300 texts to go through. It’s insane.”

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Many Artists Are Doing This Awesome Thing

For anyone looking to cover up a hate-related tattoo, there are many tattoo artists across the continent covering hate with a tattoo pen. Some are associated with the Redemption Ink program, which was formed by artist Dave Cutlip to unite tattoo artists offering this service. Others are independently working out of their own shops to fight racism, one tattoo at a time.

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If you or someone you know is ready to cover a hate-related tattoo but does not live in one of these cities, you can do a Google search for artists in your area who have joined the ranks of those inking over hatred.

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By: Rita Pike

Rita Juanita Pike is the granddaughter of Jerrie Mock, the first woman to pilot an airplane around the world. Rita has taken inspiration from her grandmother’s life and flight and pursued many of her own dreams in theater, podcasting, and novel writing. She now writes about travel, pets, faith, and the arts. She’s happily married to Matt, and faithfully serves a very fluffy kitten queen, Lady Stardust.

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