Sat | Jul 11, 2020

Michael Abrahams | Judging books by their covers

Published:Tuesday | September 10, 2019 | 12:00 AM

For most of my life, I had not been a fan of tattoos. I recall a time when I was turned off by them and the people who wore them. I grew up in a household where no one was inked. It was something I could not relate to and thought that the practice belonged to idlers. Then, as I met and got to know people with tattoos, my attitude began to change.

There is a man I see frequently at the school my youngest child attends. He is literally covered in tattoos. It is as if his body is a canvas. They are visible on his neck, back, chest, arms and forearms. His daughter attends the same institution, and I often see him dropping her off or picking her up. He attends concerts and prize-givings and is attentive, protective and loving to his offspring. I am very big on fatherhood, and this man is an inspiration to me. I have the most admiration and respect for him.

As I appreciate this man’s paternal skills, I realise that many men with unmarked skin, wearing tailored suits and in respectable positions, are absent or terrible fathers. I know some of these men. I see them in the media being praised and receiving accolades while they neglect their children. If you were to place some of them beside the tattooed gentleman and ask who is the worst and least responsible father, I am confident that many would point to the 'marked' man.

On reflection, I realise not only how my attitudes towards people with tattoos has changed, but also how important it is not to judge others by their outward appearance. Being a gynaecologist, I know that the correlation between physical appearance and character, at least regarding women, can be poor.

For example, there are some conservative folks who look down on women who adorn themselves with tattoos and piercings and wear close-fitting garments, especially if their bodies are voluptuous. There is often an assumption that these women are 'loose'. But every so often, I see women who attire themselves this way who are celibate or do not even like sex. They may dress themselves in ways people see as 'sexy' and figure that they do this in an attempt to 'look man', when it is not necessarily for this reason, but because they simply feel good when they attire themselves attractively.

On the other hand, there are many women devoid of makeup, jewellery, or markings, with natural hair, who dress very simply and are in church every Sunday who are having lots of sex with different men. This does not bother me because it's really none of my business, but I make the point to illustrate the fact that we are often quick to judge a person simply because of what we see on the outside.

We do this a lot in Jamaica regarding skin colour and complexion as well. A female friend of mine related to me that several years ago, as a guest at a hotel on the north coast, she invited a friend, a white European male, to visit her. She got a pass for him and he came to see her. As they sat by the pool, a security guard appeared, greeted the gentleman respectfully, then turned to my friend and asked her if she had obtained permission to be on the compound. He assumed that the white man must be a paying guest but wondered what this local black woman was doing on the property.

Similarly, many black people mistakenly assume that all white folks are racist. I know white people who have black spouses and children with skin of varying shades of brown who have been wrongly judged as being prejudiced by people who do not know their histories or families.

It is human to judge. We all do it. We judge based on our experiences and socialisation. But we must be mindful of jumping to conclusions about people we know little about.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.