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Can a font be racist? Certain blackletter typefaces associated with hate groups

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Posted at 9:43 AM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 11:25:58-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Addictive Ink Tattoo and Piercing Shop is one of many places in Southwest Florida to get a tattoo or piercing.

Daisy Pala is one of the shop's tattoo artists. For the past five years, she has helped customers select lettering that best illustrates the names, quotes, or titles used in their tattoos.

"I feel like a lot of people nowadays are leaning towards like a script font," said Pala.

She admits to being well-versed on the types of fonts available to customers, but she does not always know the history or significance behind the many typefaces.

Experts in typography are pointing out that the font you choose for your tattoo could have a deeper history and may be linked to hate groups.

Merriam-Webster defines typography as the style, arrangement or appearance of typeset matter.

Typeface is a type of a single design, like Times New Roman or Arial. Typeface and font are often used interchangeably.

"Typography is language visualized. It documents cultural attitudes and narrates social change," said Sarah Hyndman, graphic designer and author of the book "Why Fonts Matter."

Hyndman has spent over 20 years studying fonts and what meanings they portray. She said certain fonts emit emotions while others display characteristics like power or strength. Hyndman also acknowledges that people associate fonts with the messages that are written.

For example, Fraktur is an old style of blackletter font used on Hitler’s "Mein Kampf" and early Nazi letterheads. Because of this, Hyndman said this typeface can often be associated with racism or bigotry.

In fact, these accusations were made against Chet Hanks, son of Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks, in March of this year. He began receiving backlash on Twitter due to his new clothing line entitled "White Boy Summer." The clothing is decorated with the phrase in a blackletter font that some Twitter users say closely resembles the Fraktur font used by Nazis.

In a video posted to Instagram, Hanks denies any racism associated with the clothing line.

In his defense, other users on Twitter pointed out that The New York Times and The Washington Post both use custom blackletter fonts as their logos as well.

Hyndman said this conversation about fonts and what they represent is timely. ​

She explains that fonts are not inherently racist, but because humans look for connections between items, our brains may create a relationship between two separate issues.

"It’s not the typefaces that are at fault, it’s the context they’re used in and the associations that are forged through repetition," said Hyndman.

Hyndman suggests that each person do their own research on the history of any controversial font.

This story was originally published by Christina Evans at WFTX.