African American Interpersonal Communication through Body Art
Tattoos make an individual’s self definition more complete by visually
communicating gang membership, status, rank and personal accomplishment (Phelan 277).
Tattooing and body piercing has been practiced in almost every culture around the world,
and for thousands of years. (Greif, Hewitt 367) The African American culture use body art as a method of nonverbal interpersonal communication. The word tattoo became part of the English vocabulary in 1769 when James Cook visited the Pacific Island of Tahiti.
Both sexes, he wrote, “ paint their bodies.” Tattow as it is called in their language, this is done by inlaying the color of black under their skins in such a manner as to be indelible. Some have ill designed figures of men birds or dogs, the women generally have this simply on every joint of their fingers and toes (Shukla 234). Tattooing and body piercing are increasing, especially among young college students. Yet in Western culture, tattooing and piercing often have been considered taboo, perhaps stemming from the
Bible’s Old Testament citing in Leviticus 19:28 and Deutronomy 14:1 that prohibits the marking of ones flesh in celebration of other gods ( Greif, Hewitt 367).
Tattoo’s reflect a persons past career objectives . To analyze the moral careers communicated by these tattoos, we identify and elaborate upon five distinct phases in a prison gang moral career: pre initiate, initiate, member, veteran, and supervisor ( Phelan 277). The major reasons tattoos are given are traditionally, body art has served to attract the opposite sex, boost self esteem, ward off or invoke spirit...
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...ict Tattoo” Social Alternatives 17 (Oct 1998) : 14-16
Davis, Phil. “ New Ethnographies” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 19 (Jan 1991)
Ferguson, Henry “Body Piercing” BMJ: British Medical Journal 18 (Dec 1999) 1627-1630
Greif, Judith; Walter Hewitt. “Tattooing and Body Piercing” Clinical Nursing Research 8 (Nov 1999) 368-386
Lemonick, Michael D. “Body Art.” New York Times 22 Nov 1999
Phelan, Michael P. “ Prison Gang Members’ Tattoos as Identity Work” Symbolic Interaction 21 (1998) 277- 299
Silva, Paul. Scarification in the American Culture .U of Michigan P, 1999
Shukla, Pravina. “The Human Canvas” Natural History 108 ( Nov 1999) 80-82
Tanne, Janice Hopkins. “Body Art: Marks of Identity” British Medical Journal .320 (Jan 2000) 64
Wise, Amy. “ Gangs in America” Symbolic Interactions 23 (2000) 34-46
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