Doing the often difficult work of dismantling white supremacy and promoting anti-racism begins when, as this quote making the rounds on social media notes, a person is able to “normalize changing their opinion on something after learning new information.”
But sometimes it’s not just an opinion that needs to change. How about an oppressive belief expressed prominently ― and permanently ― on someone’s body?
The artists at Gallery X Art Collective, a tattoo shop in Murray, Kentucky (“the friendliest town in America,” according to tattoo artist Ryun King and USA Today), have a solution: covering up those hateful tattoos. And they’re offering to do it for free.
King told HuffPost the idea began as a community effort in response to the national and worldwide protests that sprung up after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He added that the offer is a way to help people who no longer identify with the racist ideals they once held so they can “finally look on the outside how they feel on the inside.”
The shop has already received thousands of inquiries and messages of support from people around the country and the world.
“As we’re tattooing, we get to see the change in the person,” King said. “Coverups are hard, you’re limited in what you can do ― but ever since this happened I almost feel like it’s what I was meant to do. It has given me a sense of purpose.”
Seeing the racist tattoo imagery can be jarring, to say the least, but King said he has “no conflict” tattooing anyone who comes into the shop with the intention of growing and leaving a previously held notion behind. He also noted that in many instances a tattoo may not even actually reflect a strongly held belief in the first place.
“When we first look at the tattoo it’s like, ‘What would ever possess you to do something like this.’ But as you talk to the client you hear their stories ― ‘I was bullied by an ex,’ or ‘I was 16,’ or ‘I had no idea.’”
He added, “We’re doing this because we’re ready to help people be better.”
The experience can be emotional, King said, not just for the client but for the artists, too.
“It’s like they leave as a different person,” he said. “They see the hate gone, the love of a new tattoo, and it was really the last thing holding them back. I have a lot of pride that I get to help those people. I get emotional, I have to look away because I’ve started tearing up. We just care about the people and our community.”
King told HuffPost the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with just a handful of hateful messages and prank calls. Those have been outnumbered “thousands and thousands to one,” he said.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Gallery X Art Collective has been able to do just a limited number of coverups so far, but the shop’s artists expect to do more in the future.
King said he hopes other shops will join in and make similar offers to clients. “We’re not doing this for money,” he said, adding, “but we have gotten donations and will be investing that money in our community and to buy supplies for other shops to be able to do this, too.”