Matthew Colwell

“Old people don’t get it.” “This limits freedom of speech.” “It’s just how I express myself.” “Acceptance is the future.” These are some of the constant groans heard from the tattooed population of my generation. I am one of those kids. Our numbers are growing and we are seeking our rightful freedom here in America.

As heated as any discussion involving art or freedom of expression gets, body art in the workplace is no different. As the tattoo culture grows and more and more of my generation becomes inked, this issue needs to be confronted by major employers. It is my belief that the issue needs to boil down to the content itself, not the actual action of tattooing.

The act of tattooing is the act of coloring the skin in a particular manner and nothing more. Last I checked, the color of your skin is irrelevant to whether you have the right to hire an applicant and where they can go in the workplace. If my skin happens to be red, blue, green and purple, it should not be the issue; just as the difference between the natural white, shades of brown, etc. are not taken into account — and that’s a law.

The problem is in the actual images presented. Freedom of speech only goes so far before you create an awkward social situation. If you see that your lawyer happens to have Nazi tattoos on his forearms, does this not make your judgment of him different? Yes. But if this lawyer tattooed an image of the American flag, it would help solidify his dedication to his craft. It would be appropriate for someone to pay homage to a dead relative in ink because it would show their love for someone close to them who has passed. It is the difference between offensive and non-offensive that is at the root of the problem. A shift on the criticism of tattoos in the workplace needs to happen, from the disdain for the actual act to a personal accountability of representing yourself in those images in an acceptable manner.

A business, private or public, needs to conserve its integrity through its employees that represent themselves through body art. To believe we should all be completely accepting of every image possible is awesome, but idealistic. There needs to be an understanding between the non-tattooed and the tattooed on what is acceptable. While the line is nothing less than muddy when it comes to creating an objective list of acceptable tattoos, or at least acceptable artistic concepts, the tattoo culture needs to take accountability for itself.

If we continue to put offensive and negative imagery on our bodies, the fight for our rights won’t be won and rightfully so. Our bodies are ours, but they are also our tools for the workforce; we must accept that we have a role in society. Represent yourself in a positive and dedicated light, and only the close-minded will reject your choice and you’ll know you should move on from there. If you’re tattooed, know that you’re not alone and we’re on the rise.

Matthew Colwell is an integrated language arts major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].