This is a topic that I feel extremely passionate about. As a someone who herself has tattoos and who has worked with students and young professionals who have body art, I've had to have some very tough conversations on the topic. "Is it appropriate for me to show my tattoo at work?" "My coworker has a tattoo and shows it all the time?" "Mrs. Dean, you have tattoos and you have a job." I've heard them all. There are so many arguments out there. Some of them are valid, some, not so much. Here are my thoughts.
1. As a woman of color and size, I am not ignorant of the stereotypes surrounding black women and tattoos. No matter how many degrees I have attained, once someone sees my tattoos and 18-inch weave, they go into their memory bank and begin to put together a description of what my education and class may or may not be. As someone looking for employment or seeking advancement, you have to be cognizant that not everyone understands your culture, black, white or otherwise. We all make flash judgments, don't be overly pious and act like you don't. Watching 'Sons of Anarchy', I DEFINITELY filled my memory bank with what white boys with tattoos' lives were like LOL They are all generalizations, but many people make hiring and firing decisions based on those generalizations. Be mindful of that.
2. You may or may not be the same person or of the same mindset as the person that got that tattoo way back when. I know for me, 2 out of 4 of my tattoos I could've done without, but they're part of me now and I'm too chicken to get them removed LOL So why do I want to take that person to work? I am not saying be ashamed of your past. What I am saying is that you take all of you to work everyday and some of you may not belong there. I like to leave Dionne circa 1997 in the vault where she belongs, only to be seen a few times a year at Caribbean carnivals around the globe ;-)
3. Your body art is just that, art and we all know that art is subjective. Not everyone will understand it and you know what, not everyone should. The tattoo on inside of my left ankle (shown in the photo above) is of a doctor bird; the Jamaican national bird. It is a tribute to my Jamaican heritage, as well as the time it took to complete my Master's thesis on Jamaican educational policy. It is personal to me and not everyone needs to see it or understand it. Know that when you show your art at work, it becomes a topic of discussion, good and bad. People will want to discuss it and it can be a distraction from the work at hand. For that reason, I say cover up and discuss it at happy hour.
4. When all else fails, learn the culture of your work environment. When I worked in schools, I kept my body art hidden for the most part because I didn't want my students to say, "Well, Mrs. Dean has tattoos." Um no, not gon' lay that burden on me LOL As I moved up the ladder, I was sure to ask my employer their stance on displaying body art in the office, but still tried my best to respect the office and not show my tattoos. Now, as an entrepreneur, I do what I want! LOLOL I'm kidding! I am still cognizant of the stereotypes out there, so I do my best to learn the culture of each place I visit and have actually used my tattoos as a speaking point during my style presentations. My parents would be so proud ;-)
So...I know this was long, but I really felt the need to share my heart on this. There are already so many odds stacked against ALL of us, of all races, genders, sexual orientations, religions. I don't want anything to keep us from getting the jobs, promotions and businesses we deserve. Be patient my darling, the day is coming when you will be able to wear your tattooed sleeve around your OWN office. For now, bite the bullet, learn all you can and takeover when it's your time!