I was listening to CBC Radio’s Ontario Today and there was a very interesting discussion on the topic of tattoos at the workplace. When is it (un)acceptable to expose them at the workplace?

In general, the discussion revolved around people covering up because of the stigma that exists in relation to tattoos and stereotypes that are attributed to people who sport them. This made me reflect on the political implications of tattoos, because this debate goes far beyond the picture they are painting on this particular radio program. This is a form of discrimination based on someone’s appearance and the fact that people have faced discrimination because of a tattoo is unacceptable, especially since this is taking place in Canada, a place that thrives on acceptance of diversity.

Let me explain where I’m coming from.

Until recently, tattoos were highly stigmatized in El Salvador because they have become associated with gangs. Gang members were branded with their gang logos and icons. Indeed, tattoos became a symbol of crime, violence, and experiences of violence among the population. Whereas most people saw representations of crime and violence, however, I saw marginalization. People who had tattoos became highly isolated because of this association with crime, to the point that when people renounced to a gang, they were unable to reintegrate themselves into society.

To bring it back to the debate taking place on Ontario Today, it is important to remember the potential consequences of discrimination against someone simply because of the marks on his or her body. In the case of El Salvador, people discriminated against individuals with tattoos as a result of fear and they ended up reinforcing the systematic marginalization of individuals at a more general level. In this particular case, it was people of a lower class who joined gangs who became further marginalized when they were looking to reintegrate into society.

In short, we cannot allow discrimination to occur simply because people don`t embody a particular archetype that we deem appropriate.


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