"people’s reaction to the word ‘skinhead’ is not a good one. As a cultural group, skinheads have been seen as stupid, violent, racists. No one here is going to deny that a lot of skins have been involved in far-right groups or held racist views, but the origins of skinhead culture were much more linked to multi-racial working class unity than any kind of white pride bollocks.
Skinhead culture emerged as a result of two shifts in British culture and society in the early/mid 1960s. Firstly, the Mod scene which had been so popular amongst British youth had begun to split into different factions. While the middle class Mods were able to carry on pursuing the latest Carnaby Street clothes and fashionable haircuts, this was out of reach to most working class Mods. In a scene so heavily based on consumerism, this undermined the working class Mods' status and ability to take part in the scene. This led to the emergence of "hard Mods", who marked themselves off from their peers with shaved hair, tight jeans, braces (suspenders), and work boots. This style, based on the typical style of British workingmen at the time, served to separate them from the old Mods and the middle class hippies of their generation. It served as "a conscious attempt by working class youth to dramatise and resolve their marginal status in a class-based society."
At the same time, there was an influx of Jamaican immigration to London. They brought with them Jamaican rude boy culture, reggae and ska. Many of them went to work in London’s docks and lived in the working class communities of London’s East End. As a result of living so close to one another, the ‘native’ hard Mods mingled with the Jamaican rude boys, swapping mannerisms, slang words and dancing together in West Indian dancehalls to all the latest ska, reggae and soul records.
Out of this, the Skinheads were born, a multi-racial, working class youth subculture with a clearly defined hostility to the police, government and bosses as well as being an expression of the discontent that many young people felt at the time. This culture would only flourish for a short while, peaking in 1969 and fizzling out in the early 1970s amidst internal violence and media hysteria.
However, to say that Skinhead died in the early 70s is wrong and by the late 1970s, Skinheads were back and had spread internationally, across Europe and to North America. Sadly, the resurgence of Skinhead culture in Britain had seen a fundamental political shift within the scene. Skins no longer danced side-by-side with Jamaican rude boys, were more connected to the emerging Punk movement and had become fertile ground for recruiting for far-right groups like the National Front and the more radical neo-Nazi group, the British Movement. Fascist groups began consciously recruiting racist Skinheads (who anti-racist Skins called ‘Boneheads’) to be foot soldiers in their street fights with immigrants, ethnic minorities and the far-left. This process was helped by the media’s portrayal of this new subculture as an explicitly racist one. Also, by the mid-1980s a far-right music movement, Blood & Honour, had become the main distributor of nazi Skinhead and Punk bands across the world holding big international gigs and publishing magazines.
Far-right activism also became a common theme throughout the Skinhead scene in North America and even more so in Europe (a common idea was that some Skins in the US might not be racist, but all the Skins in Europe were Nazis!). Racist Skins in the US were the first to organise themselves into gangs and attacked Punks, non-whites and anti-racist Skinheads. However, with the increasing violence of racist Skinheads, it’s hardly surprising that anti-racist Skins started organising themselves.
In 1986, the Baldies, America’s first explicitly anti-racist Skinhead crew were formed in Minneapolis to combat the presence of neo-Nazi gang, the White Knights. In 1987, the first Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) branch opened up in New York City to combat media portrayals of Skinheads as violent racists and spread information about Skinhead culture’s multi-racial history. They also vowed to rid New York of the racist Skinhead scene that was around in New York at the time. The SHARP model spread to other cities across the US and by 1988, there were SHARP branches in Europe as well. There have also been other anti-racist Skinhead groups, most notably RASH – Red and Anarchist Skinheads.
Today, Skinhead continues to be a thriving international youth subculture. Though still retaining a lot of the racist elements it has in the past, thanks to the efforts of dedicated anti-fascists both in and out of the scene, the nazi Skins have been (often literarily) kicked to the sidelines. Large fascist gigs have been smashed up and prevented, shops distributing nazi music were attacked until they stopped and the entire nazi Skinhead scene was driven underground. To this day in Britain, nazi Skinheads have to organise their gigs in secret, book venues under false names and often ask the police to provide protection for them on the night!
This article isn’t trying to romanticise Skinhead culture. It has been racist and mindlessly violent. But we can never forget that Skinhead culture came out of both black and white working class youth dissatisfaction and alienation from mainstream society. Because of this, there has always been a sizeable section of Skins who hold a working class politic, laying the blame for our problems fairly and squarely on those who run society, not on other sections of our class who differ from us only in race or country of birth."
TONY SOPRANO ROUND II...
9 months ago