Stories produced by St. Peter's Journalism Students
By Essence Rogers, Class of 2015 —
Peter Rogers of Brooklyn, New York has a rare gift. He makes money by permanently putting his artwork on others, many of whom share the same culture as him. He is a black tattoo artist whose clientele is mainly black.
According to Regina A. Corse, with directHarrison Interactive, a large marketing research firm, as of 2008, 7% of black adults have one or more tattoos. Take note that this statistic does not include the underage teens that are getting tattoos; the people who are much more impressionable and rebellious than adults.
“They just want to express themselves,” said Peter Rogers, a 24-year-old black tattoo artist in Brooklyn. “And it’s cool to be a rebel, I guess.”
Rebelliousness is prevalent in all young adults, but why are BLACK teenagers and young adults so caught up in the tattoo culture?
“Many black people are getting tattoos because they see rappers and basketballs players with them and they are just repeating what they see on television,” said Quinn Berridge, a sophomore at Saint Peter’s University.
MadeRich, a 24-year-old tattoo artist at Think Before You Ink, a shop in Queens, agreed with Berridge.
“I really think many black people are driven off media hype,” said MadeRich. “It’s sad but it’s what we are. Nothing wrong with it, but there should be a better reason as to why we get tattoos. We should get tattoos because they mean something to us.”
Even basketball player and graduate student, Patrick Jackson, of Saint Peter’s University feels the same way.
“I think a lot of black people are getting tattoos because it’s a fad,” said Jackson, “Everybody is doing it.”
Many basketball stars such as JR Smith and LeBron James are covered in tattoos and many people agree that the NBA players have a big influence of the black youth.
Along with basketball stars are rappers with tattoos. Wiz Khalifa and Gucci Mane have went as far as putting tattoos on their faces. Many people in the black community idolize these rappers and want to mimic their style and look, which includes getting an abundance of tattoos.
Meanwhile, while many blacks are getting tattoos, many black tattoo artists have found discrimination in their field. Although they are just as talented as artists of any other race, there are still people who do not believe so.
“I don’t let black people do my tattoos. They’re lazy,” said a man who asked to remain anonymous. “I went into a shop once and all the black tattoos artists there were lazy.”
Black tattoo artists deal with comments like these all the time when trying to establish themselves in the tattoo world. Rogers had a difficult time finding a job as a tattoo artist.
“I had to go to at least 15 different shops,” said Rogers, “You know, there’s a shop on every corner in New York. About 15 to 20 shops before I could even have a decent conversation about getting an apprenticeship. People were saying it ‘Oh. It’ll cost $100,000’, you know, just blatantly blowing me off…threatening to fight me and saying ‘You’re gonna be competition, why would I train you?’ It’s craziness.”
Rogers’ search for an apprenticeship only got harder after he heard that comment.
“I was told when I was first looking for an apprenticeship that there was no such thing as a good black tattoo artist…period,” said Rogers.
Some black tattoo artists deal with a more subtle racism, but racism nonetheless.
“I can’t say I’ve heard any negative comment first hand, but I have had to deal with certain….stereotypes,” said MadeRich. “Ya know…people thinking that black artists are less…talented more so because the color of your skin, but I think that’s a stereotype in every business.”
“They don’t really tell you negative things…it’s more like what you see,” said Derrick “DtatStar” Verley, a 41-year-old black tattoo artist at Think Before You Ink.
“I never really heard anything…it’s more like…you wasn’t able to learn certain things because you were black. Like proper procedure and how to tattoo. There’s no real book to this,” said Verley. “You had to ask questions, but dealing with a very racist society, you don’t get too many answers.”
And since many of these questions black artists have often go unanswered, black tattoo artists often have to do research themselves.
“I started researching myself and found Miya Bailey, MadeRich, like, dope black tattoo artists…and that was just recently, said Peter Rogers, “That was in the past…not even year.”
Miya Bailey is a nationally renowned artist at City Of Ink, a shop in Atlanta, who has tattooed celebrities such as Usher and Eva Pigford.
“Man…it’s in our DNA really. It’s been part of our culture from day one,” said Bailey on why black people tattoo themselves, “Tattooing started in the motherland. It’s part of who we are.”
He also had advice to all black tattoo artists across the world. “Know the history. Know the history of black tattoo artists. Respect and honor them. Respect those who opened the door for you.”
MadeRich also had something to say to his fellow black tattoo artists.
“Focus and be patient,” said MadeRich. “Don’t rush it. A lot of black artists get discouraged because there aren’t many black artists in the industry. Don’t fit in the stereotype. If this is something you are serious about, pursue it…whether you’re an apprentice or teaching yourself…”
While black tattoo artists continue to fight for their place in this industry, young blacks find themselves drawn to body art.
“Um, I have to say my freshman year or sophomore year was when I got my first tattoo, when I was about 18,” said Patrick Jackson, who has eight tattoos. “My parents wouldn’t let me get one, but when I got to college I obviously wasn’t under their supervision.”
Ieshawn Johnson, a sophomore at Saint Peter’s University, who has no tattoos, is currently under that same supervision at his household. “My parents wouldn’t let me,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to go home.”
Although he has no tattoos, Johnson had his own insight into why he thought many of his black peers are getting tattoos.
“Black people are creative and like art,” said Johnson, “We love different visual arts and we love looking a certain way.”
Peter Rogers of Brooklyn is capitalizing off his art by permanently putting it on people, many of whom are black. Black faces arrive to and leave his shop daily. Although he faces stereotypes daily based on his own color, he will continue to use his gift and contribute to this subculture within a subculture.