• Foundations of Truth

Inaccurate Claims Won’t Correct Genuine Racial Injustice



The Old Testament law commanded that the Israelites were not to level inaccurate allegations against one another. This “Ninth Commandment” is recorded in Exodus 20:16, where it says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Although this is traditionally understood to mean that one should not unfairly slander the reputation of another (which is true) it also serves another purpose: to ensure that allegations that are made are likely to be truthful and, thus, taken more seriously than if there was an element of doubt.


This has become more relevant today because there is a fine line to be walked between pointing out real injustice and becoming a reactionary who makes inaccurate accusations. Contemporary members of the black intelligentsia are calling attention to this difficult balancing act by citing their forefather, James Baldwin, who wrote: “In a society that is entirely hostile [to black people]…and, by its nature, seems determined to cut you down – that has cut down so many in the past and cuts down so many every day – it begins to be almost impossible to distinguish a real from a fancied injury.” [1]


The importance of this idea is displayed by a recent article that was published by USAToday titled “White supremacy colors everything, even art': Tattoo artists of color battle narrative that ideal skin for ink is white.” [2]


Although the title is not enough to provide a fair assessment of the article’s content, it points to one of the article’s allegations that it is an act of “white supremacy” for a tattoo artist to feel more comfortable working on the skin tones that they have tattooed most often, i.e., white skin.

Although the author rightly points out that many black Americans have had hurtful experiences with tattoo artists refusing to work on them because they “don’t know how to do it,” these individuals would likely have been more traumatized if an artist who was unfamiliar with how to create shading and detail on their skin tone had done a bad (and permanent!) tattoo.


The point of this anecdotal example is not to say that there are no racist tattoo artists or to say that all of these concerns are imaginary but merely to say that not every slight to a person of color is derived from the desire to achieve “white supremacy.”


The article further makes an overly simplified accusation that white tattoo artists are “marginalizing the same [black and brown] people they stole these practices from,” citing to countries like India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan, Egypt, Morocco, and Ethiopia.


This claim pointedly ignores the fact that the oldest known sample of tattooing that we have comes from Ötzi, the European Tyrolean Iceman who died and was buried beneath an Alpine glacier along the Austrian–Italian border [3] or the fact that tattooing was independently invented and practiced by ancient Celts (Scotland, Ireland, Wales), Pazyryks (Russia), Picts (Scotland), Greeks, Romans, and more. [4]


These two glaring problems with the article’s claims undermines the credibility of the author and the broader point that they are trying to make about the problems of black tattoo artists and aficionados.


Although this inaccuracy likely comes from a place of emotional distress at the perceived injustice and a desire to grab eyeballs with the shock value of the article’s content, it is ultimately detrimental. Like the boy who cried wolf, the author may soon find that people will not take their cries of injustice seriously. Once more, the truth of the Godly wisdom of the Bible reminds us in Proverbs 12:19 that “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.”


Yes, it is hard to provide a fair and balanced assessment of the challenges facing black tattoo artists in 2021 America. However, if one has been blessed with a platform, that platform ought to be used to speak the truth and not to exaggerate or embellish. Otherwise, the kernels of truth will be ignored and the claims will grab peoples’ attention for only a moment before being dismissed as overstatements.


Foundations of Truth hereby waives all claim of copyright (economic and moral) in this work and immediately places it in the public domain; it may be used, published, edited, and distributed in any manner whatsoever without any attribution or notice to Foundations of Truth.


[1] Batya Ungar-Sargon, “A new intelligentsia is pushing back against wokeness,” Forward (July 20, 2020), https://forward.com/opinion/451099/a-new-intelligentsia-is-pushing-back-against-wokeness/

[2] Christine Fernando, “White supremacy colors everything, even art': Tattoo artists of color battle narrative that ideal skin for ink is white,” USAToday (June 10, 2021), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/06/10/tattoo-artists-industry-reckons-discrimination-racism/7540564002/

[3] Marilyn Scallan, “Ancient ink: Iceman Otzi has the world's oldest tattoos,” Smithsonian Institute (December 9, 2015), https://www.si.edu/stories/ancient-ink-iceman-otzi-has-worlds-oldest-tattoos

[4] “European Tattoo Culture,” Painful Pleasures [tattoo blog] (January 5, 2015), https://www.painfulpleasures.com/community/blog/tattoo/european-tattoo-culture/


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