As It Happens

'Truly personal, emotional responses': Kentucky tattoo shop offering free cover ups of racist, hateful tattoos

A Kentucky tattoo shop employee says he is doing his part for the Black Lives Matter movement by helping people remedy their painful decisions and offering free cover ups to those who have hateful and racists tattoos like Confederate flags and Nazi swastikas.  

Tattoo artist Ryun King says the new tattoos offer a chance to reflect how much people can change

Ryun King, a tattoo artist at Gallery X Art Collective in Murray, Kentucky, is offering free coverups for those with racist and hateful tattoos. (Submitted by Ryun King)
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Transcript

A Kentucky tattoo shop employee says he is doing his part for the Black Lives Matter movement by helping people remedy their painful decisions and offering free cover ups to those who have hateful and racists tattoos like Confederate flags and Nazi swastikas.  

Ryun King, tattoo artist at Gallery X Art Collective in Murray, said there has been "overwhelming" and "truly personal, emotional responses" from those getting these types of tattoos hidden.   

Over the past few weeks, America has also been reckoning with its racist past, with several Confederate monuments and statues to slave owners being removed by both anti-Black racism protestors and state legislators.  

"We're getting hundreds of messages, everyone with a back story about how they're willing to change or how they've changed for years and they're ready for their [outside] to reflect their [insides]," he told As It Happens host Carol Off.  

Here is part of their conversation. 

What kinds of images are people asking you to cover up? 

Your stereotypical racial symbolism and Nazi swastika, iron crosses, S.S. bolts, confederate flags. Some gang-related tattoos, [but] I'm not really familiar with gang stuff, so I can't really describe those too much. But it's a lot of initials, a lot of guns, things of that nature.

For me, that's the biggest focus to help with the Black Lives Matter movement, the protests. You know, I am focusing mostly on the pure, blatant symbolism of hatred and racism. 

A Nazi S.S symbol and swastika in the process of being covered with flowers. (Submitted by Ryun King)

Can you give us some examples of stories that have touched you?

There is a father of three that has an Aryan symbol on his body, on his chest, and he [told me] how he's never taken his shirt off in front of his children. He's just so embarrassed by it and he just wants to move past that and be able to just be somebody that his kids can look at him without any type of negative connotations. 

Believe it or not, there are multiple stories like that, of fathers, of mothers, who have these tattoos that they just completely regret. That they got when they were children. They were 15, 16, they were at a party or they were trying to impress some boyfriend that had his own views. It's something that they almost never even wanted to begin with.

It's only been about a week since we've started this and we've only been able to get in about two or three clients since because of the coronavirus shutdowns and the rescheduling of our prior appointments. 

Tell me more about the circumstances in which they had these tattoos done? I mean, this wasn't done on a whim, this is coming from a society where [having these tattoos] was cool.

This is kind of the midwest area here. And, you know, there's that "southern pride" that people had. I think they were just kind of swept up in that emotion or that movement that they thought was something but was really just based on hate.

And a lot of times they did it because they love someone else. For most of the people it wasn't even about the hate. It was just about acceptance, trying to be part of something that they just really didn't know anything about. 

A Confederate flag is replaced by Pickle Rick from the Adult Swim cartoon Rick and Morty. (Submitted by Ryun King)

You're doing this for free. If these [tattoos] have been such hateful reminders of a past life for these people, why didn't they get rid of it on their own without you having to offer this opportunity? 

There have been two obstacles I've noticed. 

Number one is finances. A lot of people just simply can't afford it. We're noticing that people in general, just the average everyday person, doesn't have that extra money to be able to spend on something that's, you know, I guess is not a necessity. A tattoo is more of a want than a need.

The other reason is because they're ashamed. We have people who won't even message us ourselves. We have fathers saying: "My son really needs this, but he's just too ashamed to get a hold of anyone." 

We have boyfriends, we have husbands, we have wives that are all saying that their significant others have changed, but they're just too ashamed to even show anyone because they fear judgment, rejection and just the stigma of being a person that has that type of symbolism on them. 


Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Tayo Bero. Q&A is edited for length and clarity.

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