A Darker Canvas: Tattoos and the Black Body


Best of 2018

We’re away until January 2, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2018. Enjoy your holiday!

One time in New Orleans, during an annual music festival organized by Essence magazine, a lady flagged me down from her car. I was walking through the French Quarter. The air was sufficiently drenched. In a neighborhood that has been steadily losing black folks, the block was suddenly full of us—glowing in bright clothes, and laughing entirely too loud. But this woman was pretty pissed.

When I reached her window, she gave me another nod. She squinted at my tattoos, and asked where the nearest parlor was.

“But one for us,” she said. “I’ve already been to four today.”

I pointed her to a guy I knew, up the road and around the corner. When she asked if he was black, I winced, because he was not.

“He’s good though,” I said. “I mean it. He’s done me twice.”

The lady looked deeply skeptical. But then she said, “Okay.”

“Listen,” she continued. “I don’t know about that. But I’m going to trust you.”