One local tattoo artist recently decided he could give back to his community by offering free cover-ups to those who had any type of racial tattoo — whether it be a swastika, a rebel flag, the Schutzstaffel emblem adopted by the Nazis, or a symbol of white supremacy.
Brian Charles Benoit, owner of Shaka Tattoo, said many of those who had racist tattoos inked onto their skin at young ages end up regretting the decision later in life. It can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and even intimidating to ask tattoo artists to cover up or remove racially insensitive tattoos, he said.
Benoit, who prioritizes customer service and genuine connections above all else at his shop, said he tattoos people of every race, religion and background. Those who made regrettable decisions in their past and are willing to remedy them are treated no differently, he said.
“With the riots and racism and hate coming out on the news, it’s a big issue going on right now,” he said. “I thought, ‘I have a really unique platform as a tattoo artist, and I love everything about Owensboro. How could I promote love and kindness here?’”
Within a few days after publishing his post about free tattoo cover-ups, Benoit received messages from 27 people across the community.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering tattoo shops for a while, Benoit said business has been great at Shaka Tattoo since reopening. Still, it wouldn’t have been financially feasible to do free cover-ups all day, so Benoit allocates time for one or two sessions a week, as long as his schedule permits it.
“Obviously, I can’t do an entire sleeve as a cover up,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll do a cover up of my choosing, but they can have four or five different options to pick from.”
One male customer came into Shaka Tattoo last week to ask Benoit if he could cover up a rebel flag tattoo on his forearm. Describing the man as very sincere and genuine, Benoit said the 2-inch-by-3-inch brightly colored tattoo had become a symbol of negativity for the man as he’d gotten older.
The man told Benoit he was passionate about music. After studying the tattoo, Benoit said he could turn the rebel flag into a cassette tape. To offset the bright colors, Benoit said he planned to use a lot of gray and black ink for the cover-up, as it would saturate the area with ink and build on top of the previous color.
“Some of them are really embarrassed — he said he gets judged about it,” Benoit said of the client. “I was a deputy at [the Daviess County Detention Center] and I remember seeing all kinds of racist tattoos. When you’re young, you go through phases. Everyone’s experience is different. Some of them grow up in the country where they’ve never even seen an Asian or Black person. They think it’s cool at the time.”
Benoit, who was born in Hawaii and grew up in California before moving to Kentucky, said his life has become all about loving others.
“Love, to me, is more than using words. It’s how you make someone feel,” he said. “If you put it out there, you get it in return. That’s not always the case, but, for the most part, I think you get what you give.”