The Taboo on Tattoos: April 2014

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It’s a warm Friday evening and we are on our way to get some cake-batter flavored frozen yogurt; my eight-year old casually asks me, “Are people with lot’s of tattoos, bad people?”

She follows up, by assuring me that she didn’t think I was a bad person; because, I have only one tattoo.

As a single-dad, raising two daughters alone, this is not an unusual situation; often, I get asked uncomfortable questions – that I can’t just delegate for someone else to answer.

Someone at school must have made this comment; something she either overheard or became aware of this in a group conversation. Usually, children pick such things up from their families – most likely from parents, older siblings or extended families.

You wonder where these dogmas come from and why people would say things like this; when I think back at my childhood, I was told (and sincerely believed) that men who wore gold-chains (or pendants) around their necks, were either hijackers or smugglers (“Lafanga” or “Bokhatey” are the the words in Bangla, that I have a tough time transliterating).

We carry these harmful untruths all our life; most of the time, it’s someone in our families, who instills these values in us – to create this perception of “judgement”. Instead of getting to know the person (with the tattoo, or wearing a pendant) – just start judging them on their appearances – and somehow you will be safe!

In the 70s and 80s of Bangladesh, where I spent my childhood and teens, there are no racial divisions – but there still are atrocious economic inequalities and discrimination. You will not play with a certain type of children – or you cannot be friendly with children who don’t go to school with you!

However, in this twenty-first century America, where Shania enjoys the best of a private school education, it’s difficult for me to accept where these taboos originate from.

I have noticed similar negative biases in workplaces. We often make hasty decisions, on recruitment or results, based on outside appearances. About 10 years ago, I was surprised to know that one of our best technology leaders had an armful of tattoos and smoked a pack-a-day.

As we park at the Yogurt place and emerge from the car, I speak to Shania about not judging people by their external appearances. We talk about colors – how orange is different from blue – how we like different books or music – how some days are cloudy and others are not.

We conclude, people have different tastes; we cannot udge them on the basis of their height, weight, tastes or color. Instead we should really try to get to know the person and see how s/he behaves with others. Humanity, is at the end of the day, our biggest asset.

Filtering is necessary for survival; however, undue biases and taboos create so many negative experiences in our lives.

There is no practical way to insulate my children from all their biases or choices – I know the world is not perfect – nor that they won’t experience by themselves. All I know, on this mild evening, is that my responsibility is to keep questioning my own beliefs and helping my children see the world from a different point of view – where love is possible in forms, shapes and colors – with tattoos, or not.

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2 thoughts on “The Taboo on Tattoos: April 2014

  1. Very good response to Shania. Even with our (and our parents’) best efforts, we end up having sub-conscious biases which create barriers between us and “some people.” The goal is, as you have done here, to minimize those as much as possible in our children and in ourselves. Quite often we forget what we have in common as core human emotions and focus on the appearances.

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