Tattoos generally seem pretty harmless. People use them for self-expression and to show off their artistic creativity, which is always a cool thing to do. However, some tattoo designs, no matter how cool they may seem at first, are actually pretty offensive and dangerous to wear if you don’t know what they mean.
From cultural appropriation to gang affiliation signs, here are the most offensive tattoos people get. We’ll also talk about the reasons these tattoos are considered offensive and their original meaning. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
The Most Offensive and Culturally Appropriative Tattoos
Political and War Associated Tattoos – Offensive, Racist, and Hateful
For decades now, people are getting tattoos that are political and war-associated. They often feature controversial symbols, like the Nazi Swastika or the Communist hammer and sickle symbol.
These symbols are considered controversial and extremist, and in some countries, one might even get arrested for having such tattoos. In the USA and Europe, political tattoos that are considered offensive, extremist and racist are;
- The Odin’s Cross – popularized by the KKK in 1920, this tattoo is generally worn by neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups. In 1971, a display of this tattoo caused a race riot in North Carolina.
- The Nazi Swastika – this symbol was adopted by the German Nazi party. Unfortunately, before the Nazis, this symbol was used by various religious groups in Southeast Asia as a good luck symbol. Nowadays, it is considered extremely offensive, and wearing this tattoo could get you thrown into jail in Europe and in certain USA states.
- Schutzstaffel or the Nazi SS – this symbolized the Nazi police forces (from Gestapo to Waffen SS). Nowadays, the symbol is associated with popular neo-Nazi tattoos as well as racist skinheads.
- The Hammer and Sickle – now, this one might be controversial; nowadays, the younger generations do not consider the Communist hammer and sickle symbolism offensive. However, it is still considered pretty dangerous to walk around with this symbol. It shows you support communist politics, which means your support Russia and other Communist countries like China or Vietnam.
Tribal and Cultural Tattoos – Appropriative and Disrespectful
Tribal tattoos have existed for centuries among indigenous people around the world. These tattoos symbolize social status, heritage, ancestral lineage, tribe one belongs to, religious belief, and so much more.
So, when someone who doesn’t belong to the culture and the heritage gets a tribal tattoo, it is considered to be culturally appropriative and offensive, especially when people don’t have a clue what they’re wearing on their bodies. Some of the most appropriative tattoos include;
- Maori tattoos – the oldest tattooing tradition comes from the Maori people who were ‘discovered’ by the Europeans in the 16th century. Their tattoos are tribal and are deeply rooted in the culture and tradition of these people. Today, unless you are of Maori heritage and ancestry, you should not wear a Maori tattoo.
- Samoan tattoos – just like the Maori, Samoan people have hundreds of years-long tattooing tradition. The tattoos are also tribals and associated with different tribes, warfare symbolism, ancestral lineage, and religious belief. Unless you are Samoan, or of Samoan ancestry and heritage, it is offensive to wear a Samoan tattoo.
- Indian religious tattoos – many non-Indian people tend to get Indian religious tattoos to honor the tradition and culture (often associated with Yoga and meditation). However, getting tattoos of Indian deities, like Buddha (from Buddhism religion), or Ganesha (from Hinduism), is considered extremely offensive and disrespectful to the members of these religions. In India, such an act is considered blasphemy and is often punished by prison time.
- Japanese Yakuza tattoos – Yakuza tattoos in Japan are only worn by Yakuzas. For those who don’t know, Yakuzas are the Japanese criminal gang who are extremely powerful and some would say bloodthirsty. So, by getting a Yakuza (or Japanese traditional tattoo) you could get yourself into some serious trouble.
Prison Tattoos – Dangerous, Offensive, and Crime-Related
It is well known that people who go to prison for a lot of years or go to prison frequently, tend to get some kind of prison tattoo(s). Such a tattoo depicts their status in prison, the struggles they went through while locked up, or the reason they went to prison in the first place.
Unfortunately, outside of prison, these tattoos are considered offensive and dangerous. They might get the person with the tattoo in a lot of trouble, or diminish their chances of reentering the community, getting a job, and returning to a normal life. Here are some of the prison tattoos that should be avoided;
- The spider web tattoo – such a tattoo is generally associated with a prisoner who is also extremist and racist. The tattoo is often placed on the arm, to display that the prisoner has killed a person of color or minority. So, you can see why this is considered offensive outside the prison.
- A tear tattoo – generally placed under the right eye, a tear tattoo means that the person has committed murder. Several tears indicate several murders, or attempted murders as well. Unfortunately, because the tattoo is placed in such a visible location, it directly presents the wearer as dangerous and harmful.
- A barbed-wire tattoo – now, this tattoo is generally offensive to people who have served time in prison, since it is a popular tattoo design among law-abiding citizens. The barbed wire and every knot on the tattoo, represent one (or more) years in prison. So, regardless of the reason, one gets such a tattoo, it can be considered offensive and pose you as a dangerous person.
- The three dots tattoo – also known as Mi Vida Loca tattoo (translated, My Crazy Life), this stick-and-poke tattoo is a standard one to get in case a person has had issues with the law and criminal activity. So, to get this tattoo without any criminal affiliation can be dangerous. If you haven’t had trouble with the law, do not get such a tattoo.
Other Offensive and Appropriative Tattoos
There is a whole array of offensive and appropriative tattoo designs. However, not everything is always offensive and appropriative to everyone equally. But, we decided to mention tattoo designs that are universally considered offensive and appropriative to different people and different cultures.
- Sexually explicit tattoos – obviously, if you have a sexually explicit tattoo, it will be considered disrespectful, distasteful and offensive. There is no particular reason people feel compelled to get such tattoos, but they generally tend to be pretty offensive to other people.
- Sugar skull tattoos – the sugar skull is one of the main symbolism of the Day of the Dead celebration. This celebration is deeply rooted in the Aztec tradition, which is nowadays practiced as a ritual in Mexico. Unless you’re of Mexican heritage or part of the culture in other ways, it would be pretty offensive to get a sugar skull or Calavera tattoo.
- Native American tattoos – to get a tattoo that depicts either Native Americans or any of the Native American symbolism (Indian headdress, dreamcatchers, and feathers, spiritual animals like eagle or bear, etc.), without belonging to the culture, heritage, and tradition, is considered offensive and disrespectful.
- Certain numerical tattoos – if a tattoo only says 100%, chances are the wearer believes in white supremacy, since it stands for pure Aryan blood. Moreover, if a tattoo shows the number 18, it stands for the initials of Adolf Hitler (1st and 18th letters of the alphabet are A and H). And, if a tattoo shows 311, chances are it stands for KKK (since the 11th letter of the alphabet is K and it is repeated 3 times). Of course, the reason why these tattoos are offensive is self-explanatory.
- A noose tattoo – this tattoo is considered offensive due to its historical association with lynching. Such symbolism is racist and directed primarily at African-Americans; it also promotes hate speech and needles to say, is offensive on so many levels.
What Constitutes an Offensive or Appropriative Tattoo?
- Tattoos that promote racism, hate, and warfare are considered offensive and illegal in some states and countries.
- Tattoos that promote crime, and crime-related activities either offensive or even illegal too.
- Tattoos that spark controversy and offend minorities or people of color are considered offensive.
- Any tattoo that is deemed sexual in nature or shows sensitive/private parts of the body is generally unacceptable and offensive.
- Tattoos that showcase extremist symbols associated with politics, warfare, and slavery are considered offensive.
- Tattoos that showcase other cultures’ and religions’ deities and gods are considered offensive, disrespectful and appropriative.
- Tattoos that show other culture’s and traditions’ symbols and markings are considered offensive and appropriative.
It is safe to say that getting offensive tattoos, or culturally appropriative tattoos without informing and educating oneself is quite unacceptable in this day and age. When every single piece of information is one click away, ignorance doesn’t hold water in the discussion of getting offensive tattoos.
What compels people to get such a tattoo is generally still in question; maybe they want to purposefully offend people, or they never really learned about other people’s cultures, traditions, and religions. But, whatever you do, make sure to thoroughly research any design of interest before getting a tattoo.