The owner of Pangea Piercing, J.C. Potts, closed the Ann Arbor piercing shop indefinitely last week following social media backlash and protests over allegations of racism and harassment.
“It would be awesome if we lived in a world where white people could freely use the ‘n-word’, have an organization for white people, or wear swastika earrings without looking like an asshole,” Potts wrote in a statement on Pangea Piercing’s blog.
In a post that has now been retweeted over 6,200 times, Ann Arbor native Laura Strodd detailed her conversation with Potts and his emphasis on the need for “whites (to) stick together” and that she must “embrace white heritage to survive.”
Since then, dozens of individuals have come forward with accusations of Potts' white supremacist views, recounting situations in which they have felt vulnerable and unable to disagree. Complaints range from racist, sexist and transphobic comments to sexual harassment while customers were getting piercings. Many others expressed their concerns with the safety and professionalism of the process, mentioning scarring and pain.
Ann Arbor resident Alice Held called Potts’ comments about her body inappropriate.
“JC was the first artist to ever sexualize my body,” Held said. “To put that into perspective, I have had my stomach/sternum tattooed, both sides of my rib cage tattooed, so I’ve had my fair share of having to be shirtless around strangers. I have never had any artist comment on my breasts, curves or general appearance while getting tattooed. It’s just not heard of.”
Held highlighted Potts’ years of experience working as a professional piercer, and said these inappropriate comments should not be taken lightly.
“JC has been in the industry for decades,” she said. “Because of his experience, I find it hard to believe that he didn’t know it would be inappropriate to make a comment like that to me. He chose to do it anyway, as well as saying the N-word, and he chose to make similar sexual and racist comments to dozens of other clients as well.”
University doctorate student Abby Lamb also said he brought up topics she considered inappropriate during the procedure.
“JC started out with polite, normal small talk about my work,” Lamb said. “But as soon as he discovered I'm a genetics researcher he started going on about ‘the genetic correlation between aggression and skin pigment,’ which is complete non-scientific nonsense peddled by white supremacists to justify their views.”
Lamb emphasized Potts put her in a “creepy and uncomfortable situation,” where she didn’t feel like she could respond to or challenge his beliefs.
“He was in the process of changing my piercing when this came up, and I didn't feel comfortable or safe objecting while he was handling my facial piercing,” Lamb explained. “He basically took advantage of my vulnerability and his position of relative power to both mansplain my field of research to me while trying to preach that dark skinned people are naturally violent.”
Music, Theatre & Dance senior Jaime Sharp is one of many customers who have experienced dangerous physical side-effects at Pangea Piercing, and said she was appalled at the staff's lack of concern and aftercare instructions.
“[They] didn’t tighten my jewelry enough and it fell out,” Sharp said. “I came back and they were yelling at me, telling me it was my fault and charged me to put it back in. Then he tightened it too much and it got infected, I had to get it fixed somewhere else. … My friend also got her cartilage done there and they also put her jewelry on too tight and it got infected. She had to go to the ER to get it cut off.”
Following the viral posts, protesters showed up at Pangea Piercing with printed copies of victim statements and signs accusing Potts of being a Nazi. Potts responded with a video statement released on Pangea Piercing’s official YouTube channel, where he’s posted other controversial videos.
“I’ve talked about challenging topics and for the ultra-sensitive activist types, I’m sure that I can sound like some ‘Trumpian’ figure,” Potts wrote in his statement. “With a little twist and some embellishment, it might finally be the ‘actual racism’ that Ann Arbor has been so desperately searching for.”
Amid the allegations and controversy, Held said the virality of these posts has helped people unfamiliar with the piercing industry recognize inappropriate comments and figure out how they should be treated by professionals specializing in body modification.
“I think that by publicizing the victim testimonies and by talking about what happened to us, it has allowed people who may not be familiar with the body modification world to better understand what is and isn’t appropriate behavior in shops,” Held said. “Body modification shops aren’t going to be the most PG place in the world and no one’s asking to alter that culture. We are simply saying that racism, sexism and ableism do not have a place in the body modification industry and Ann Arbor.”