Psst, Your Gang Tats Are Scaring People

I don't have any tattoos. I'm too much of a chicken to endure pain for some ink--and I probably change my mind too much for them. But, I like admiring other people's tattoos, especially if they're artistic and interesting. Exhibit A: Depeche Mode's legendary frontman Dave Gahan:I can even roll with this from AFI's Davey Havok:
It's fun to ask folks about their ink. What inspired them? How long did it take? Did it hurt? Do they want more? But, the kind of tattoos that signal incarceration or criminal behavior--like these--I don't have any questions about them. Those kind of tattoos scare me. And, a guy hanging out in front of 7-11 last night had plenty of those. And he scared the crap out of my kids. And, OK, me too.

As we approached the 7-11 entrance, I observed him, probably in his early 30s, standing next to the Redbox DVD rental machine. If ever there was a walking "I'm a gang member" stereotype, this dude was it. He was musclebound and wearing a white wife beater tee, jean shorts, socks pulled up to his knees and tennis shoes. But what verified his legitimacy was his tattoos. They covered the top and back of his bald head, encircled his neck, flowed down his arms and onto his fingers, and, of course, he had those small ones--I didn't look too closely to see what they were--next to his eyes.

I hustled my sons on by and headed inside, where we proceeded to waste time picking out junk food. After the cashier rang up our purchases, my 10-year-old, Mr. O, says to me, "We can't go back outside because that dude is still there."

That's how much he was scared. I told him not to worry, that the dude wasn't interested in us. Who knows, despite the tats, he may have turned his life around. If he has, how sad to have to spend your days with that ink on your body, proclaiming for all the world to see, who and what you used to be.


Stesha said…
When I was 19, I was very eager to get a tattoo. A small flower on my ankle. Now many years later I regret it. It's not horrible. It's just not who I am today.

Hugs and Mocha,
Liz Dwyer said…
That's exactly what I think would happen to me, too. I've long said that the only tat I could possibly get is a Depeche Mode one, but even then, I just don't think I can do it. Hugs to you, too.
nick said…
I have several reasons for not tattooing - I might have regretted it later, it would have been painful, it might have deterred would-be employers, and I prefer the look of natural skin to an "enhanced" version.

Some tattoos look fantastic and suit the person, others just look rather ridiculous and over the top. Don't really understand why they're so fashionable right now.

Certainly gangster tattoos must be pretty intimidating.
Anonymous said…
I found your blog after linking over from the CNN article regarding unwanted touching of a black woman's hair.

I must say, in light of the point you make about respecting another's privacy and personal space, I find it ironic that you would ask about the meaning behind a stranger's tattoo. That is a very personal question and really isn't any of your business, wouldn't you say?

I have read your "hair" post twice now. You, along with the majority of your commenting readers, seem to be very quick to repel a stranger's - often innocent - attempt at a personal connection. As a woman with curly hair, I've never looked at these requests as anything short of curiosity, whereas you can't seem to detach it from a race issue. To lend perspective, I am not white and have been the target the occasional backward comment.

When you juxtapose this tattoo post with your hair post, it is very telling. Your jaded attitude doesn't give you much freedom to live your life and see the best in others.
Anonymous said…
I was going to comment here on the irony of your discrimination and stereotyping of someone's appearance (in relation to the article where you perceived a request to touch your hair as racist), but I see someone has beaten me to it and written it more eloquently than I know I am able!
Liz Dwyer said…
They can be pretty intimidating--which is, of course, the intent! You don't have to say anything about what set you rep with those tats. The images do all the talking. What's sad though is that there are many reformed gang members who, because they want gainful employment, etc, have to go through the painful process of getting those tattoos removed.

Thanks for your comment. It's common for people to get tattoos because the images conveys a particular meaning, and there's a difference between asking someone about a tattoo they have on their forearm or some other easily visible place, and what happened to me at a public pool here in Los Angeles. If the woman had simply said that she liked my hair, fine. That's a compliment, sure. But as you know, since you read the post twice, that that's not what happened. I'm actually not jaded--I'm frequently told I'm too optimistic and that I'm too nice. I just don't think that I have to allow someone to pet me, whether they are curious or not. But thanks for commenting and sharing your perspective.

Anon #2,
When someone has MS 13 tatted on their bald skull, there's no stereotyping required.

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