As somebody who both has and enjoys tattoos, I try to be pretty open-minded about what other people have on their own bodies. Of course, I’m sure there are plenty of people who would think that mine are rather silly, and there are also some others that I think are more than a little, uhm, silly. So when I saw Justin Bieber’s new tattoo — a somewhat stereotypical image of a Native American’s head — my first reaction was, “Are you serious? Is this not some sort of joke?” And then I started thinking about why I felt like that.
My reasoning for finding it a bit offensive is that, for hundreds of years, there has been particular imagery of Native Americans that is not only inaccurate most of the time, but often reappropriated to fit into other cultures and to benefit the image of caucasians. We’ve seen a public backlash against this usage several times: in fashion, in merchandising, in music. And then we’ll almost always see another public backlash against this initial complaint, insisting that reappropriation is no big thing. So is getting a tattoo of a Native American in a headdress along that vein?
Well, according to Bieber’s Instagram, the tattoo is actually of the logo for a Canadian hockey team. The caption reads, “My grandfather always took me to the stratford culliton every friday night this is for u Grampa.” So, is it still considered offensive to tattoo an image that may have been offensive in the first place, but represents something different thereafter? I’m admittedly conflicted, because I do think there’s a certain stereotypical racial factor in the image itself, and I wish that teams would finally cease to use cultural generalizations for their logos. But to use their chosen image to honor your grandparent sort of negates the offensiveness of the person who got it. Right? Maybe. I don’t know. That said, I think 95% (if not 100%) of Bieber’s tattoos are exactly what I might’ve gotten had I been financially able/allowed to get tattoos at, oh, 12, so I expect that at some point, he actually will get something easily determinable as insulting. Case closed!
Here’s one more shot of the piece in question:
Photos: Justin Bieber’s Instagram