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African American Interpersonal Communication Essay Research Paper

African American Interpersonal Communication Essay, Research Paper African American Interpersonal Communication through Body Art Tattoos make an individual’s self definition more complete by visually

African American Interpersonal Communication Essay, Research Paper

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 figure

Z 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 spirits, indicate social position or marital

status, identify with a particular age or gender group or mark a rite of passage, such as puberty or

marriage. It is this sort of strictly prescribed, highly ritualistic decoration that Beckwith and Fisher

depict in African ceremonies. “ We have tried to show how body art is relevant to every stage of

development, from birth to death”, says Fisher. But while the traditional, often spiritually based

versions of bod mod are quickly disappearing among indigenous peoples, the impulses behind

personal adornment remain unchanged: attracting a mate, signaling status, declaring allegiance to

a group( Lemonick 75). For men, the tattoo is a public identity symbol, and their first is usually on

their arm. Women reserve their tattoo for a more intimate audience, and they usually choose their

breast. For most, the tattoo is symbolic of their individuality and having withstood a

painful and exciting event. Tattooees enjoy being noticed, although they reveal their

tattoos selectively ( Davis 471). Anthropologists describe body art or modification as a

way of identifying oneself as being a part of a group, a tribe, or a gang: of denoting one’s

financial status or marital status: or even as a way of beautifying the body (Grief, Hewitt

368).

Implicit here is the theme of deliverance–the redemptive passage from pain and

uncertainty wherein the tattoo serves as both silent witness and lucky charm. Yet sailors

and navel men have long applied symbols to their bodies, in an almost magical way, to

guide their vessels and protect themselves, to deflect the temptations of a faraway

women and even alleviate the pain of flogging. Soldiers, bikers and underworld gangs

continue to adorn themselves with a range of symbols and ritual inscriptions: badges of

rank, rites of passages, emblems, slogans and whimsical vision. And as

appalling and savage as the tattooed prisoner appeared to 19th century criminologists, who

wrestled to catalogue the criminal condition, it was well understood that the expansive

repertoire of marks and mutilations universally made in prison bore than idle distraction.

Professor Cesare Lombroso, a leading criminal theorist of the 1890’s, cited vengeance ,

vanity and superstitions as prime motivations behind these so called “ ideographic

hieroglyphs”. It was well accepted that tattoo represented a cryptic form of expression and

a way of overcoming a fierce and unfortunate plight (Crockett 15).

For many centuries, body piercings have been evident. Many from pirates to Roman

Centurions, have had body piercing– sometimes symbolizing royalty , bravery, virility, or as a rite

of passage (Greif, Hewitt 368). Why do people alter their body, sometimes painfully and

permanently with body piercing? Enid Schildkrout, curator of the show and chair of museums

division of anthropology, thinks there are many reasons: “To be Human.” For beauty, as a sign of

change or rebellion or conformity, to show status, to mark a moment , to be able to wear a

certain ornament, to identify with spirits or deities, to show group membership, to show gender

distinctions. Body piercing reflects what one society believes is beautiful, expensive, noble,

religious, or of high status. An outside culture may react quite differently to beards, tattoos, black

teeth, or oddly shaped bodies ( Tanne 65).

The African American culture use body art as method of nonverbal interpersonal

communication. In the future tattooing and body piercing is going to become more and more

popular. Tattooing and body piercing are increasing , especially among college students. A

study of 766 tattooed and/or body pierced college students across the United States, shows that

each student had something they were symbolizing with their tattoo or body piercing( Grief,

Hewitt 368). The creatively pierced , multiple tattooed teenagers who hang out at every mall in

America probably do not realize it and neither undoubtedly do their unsettled parents- but they

belong to a tradition as old as recorded history- probably much older. Ever since our Neolithic

ancestors invented art tens of thousands of years ago, humans have been painting, sculpting and

otherwise decorating everything in sight. The human body is just the nearest and most intimate

canvas. There is no known culture in which people do not paint, pierce, tattoo, reshape or simply

adorn their body ( Lemonick 76). While teenagers use pierced tongues and the like to set

themselves apart, some 20s to 30s have latched on to the “ neotribal” look an amalgam of facial

tattoos, piercing and “ native “ hairdos, and jewelry that barrows from culture from the South

Pacific to the Amazon. Much of this serves the same counterculture function that long hair did in

the 60s, observes Rufus Camphausen, an author based in the Netherlands who has written

extensively on tribal customs. He says “ These symbols are a way of saying , ‘ I do not belong to

the supermarket society.”

Tattooing and body piercing are getting out of hand. They symbolize

something the first one or two a person gets. Then their are those people who have piercing and

tattoos all over their bodies. A few tattoos or piercings are fine . The tattoos that show that a

person loves someone or the piercing that symbolizes bravery in a person is fine. Tattooing and

body piercing help and hurt a person in communication. While some people might know the

symbols or piercing they might not know what they stand for. They might not know the true

meaning a person is wanting them to get out of this. To make people more aware of symbols and

piercing out there, there should be an educational path to rely on for this.

Work Cited Page

Crockett, Gary. “ The Convict Tattoo” Social Alternatives 17 (Oct 1998) : 14-16

Davis, Phil. “ New Ethnographies” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 19 (Jan 1991)

471-474

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

Bibliography

Work Cited Page

Crockett, Gary. “ The Convict Tattoo” Social Alternatives 17 (Oct 1998) : 14-16

Davis, Phil. “ New Ethnographies” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 19 (Jan 1991)

471-474

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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