NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tattoo artists in Nashville are using their skills in ink to help in the fight against racial injustice by covering up racist tattoos for free.
Colby Hunter of Sage & Serpent Tattoo in Inglewood, Tennessee, announced on Facebook last week that he will cover up racist tattoos for free to people who have truly had a change of heart. He was inspired by other tattoo artists in Nashville and Ohio who are running similar programs.
"This is something I'm able and capable of doing," Hunter said. "If they have made that turn in their lives and want to change their ways, I want to help out and make time for it."
According to Hunter, tattoos considered racist include swastikas and SS bolts. The Anti-Defamation League lists more than 200 hate symbols in an online database. While he hasn't received any requests so far, Hunter stressed a vetting process is in place.
"I would like to hear people's stories. It's not just free cover-ups for people who are actively racist. They can stay at home, and I won't do anything for them," Hunter said.
While other artists across the country are doing the same thing, not everyone agrees with the approach. Elisheba Mrozik of One Drop Ink Tattoo Parlour & Gallery said there needs to be more action and accountability.
"I get people wanting to help, but rewarding someone who has been a racist and taken the time and the pain and the money to spend on getting a piece of work to put on their body just to show how much they hate a specific group of people should not be rewarded," Mrozik said.
Mrozik made a name for herself as the first black licensed tattoo artist in Nashville in 2011. She said that while the tattoo industry is rebellious in nature, it's also notorious for not valuing dark-skinned artists or clients.
On top of just being willing to listen, Mrozik urged other artists to help by offering free tattoos to people with dark skin who they may have denied in the past as well as providing apprenticeships to black artists.
Mrozik isn't against covering up the racist tattoos but said more needs to be done — and Safe House Tattoo agrees.
Owner Ian White originally offered to cover the racist tattoos for free, but changed directions after watching Mrozik's video. He followed up with a second post on social media that said as a business, the shop didn't want to forget the struggle of Black Lives Matter and acknowledged the industry's need to better show the diversity of its clients through portfolios.
White said he'd still like to cover up racist tattoos but changed the vetting process to require a $100 donation to one of many groups supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
In a statement, he said that while the shop had good intentions to be "anti-racism" with his original approach, he wished to have stepped back and listened longer.
"It's a perfect way to give that person an action to show they're about change and not just out here for a free tattoo," Mrozik said.
White said he hadn't received any requests since the original post.
This story was originally published by Matthew Torres on WTVF in Nashville.