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How We Discriminate Against People with Tattoos


Model and activist Yves Mathieu helps us confront the stigma around tattooed bodies — especially brown ones.

A few years ago, an older woman spit on me as I was walking out of Panera. She said, "Such a beautiful boy, I don't want to see you burn in hell."

When you're heavily tattooed, especially on your face, people are quick to assume that you have no goals or ambitions, that you're careless, unemployable, or that you have a shitty attitude. And with our current president, people have become more empowered to project hate onto those who look a certain way, making me an easy target -- I'm a stop sign with legs.

Some people don't even realize they have this prejudice because they were cultured in a society that portrays people that look like me -- Black and tattooed -- in one particular way: something to be wary of. If I hold the door open for someone, they're surprised someone like me would be kind.

Even at work, I've been asked if I'm in a gang, if I've been arrested or been in jail -- the answer to all of which is "No." If someone is white and tattooed, they are a rockstar, a rebel, or maybe a skateboarder.

People are so comfortable with their type of "normal," they approach everything else with fear and snap judgment, but it is a failure to understand something beyond you.

There's nothing wrong with asking someone's name or "How are you?" before you conduct a Q&A about their tattoos. And before you even approach someone, respect their boundaries and think about your intentions, or consider why you are crossing that boundary to ask about their body. Beyond my being tattooed, Black, and queer, I am a human. -- as told to Fran Tirado.

To read more, grab your own copy of Out's April issue on Kindle, Nook and Zinio today, and on newsstands March 26. Preview more of the issue here and click here to subscribe.

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Yves Mathieu