Tattoo artists call out racism, discrimination in industry across US

Sezin Koehler had the perfect tattoo in mind. She imagined blue and purple swirls rising up her arm to match the colorful tattoos adorning her shoulders. After hours of planning and research, she brought her idea to a tattoo artist.

The artist took one look at her and said no.

“Your skin tone is a problem,” she remembers the artist telling her.

Koehler, 42, went to multiple artists, who said her skin was too dark to be tattooed in color. They suggested black and gray, even though Koehler already had blue and purple tattoos.

Each time, Koehler left the tattoo shops crying.

“Artists should be able to paint on any canvas,” said Koehler, a Sri Lankan and Lithuanian American culture writer from southeast Florida. “And if you can’t, there’s the internet, books, networks of artists that can teach you. If you wanted to learn, you could. So the fact is they’re making a choice that they only want certain kinds of people to tattoo. And that is racist. There’s no excuse for it.”

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