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Skinhead culture is a way of life. For someone to claim him or herself a skinhead is simply a claim to dedication to the cream of the working class crop. However, it takes a certain breed of character, not just any joe on the job, to make what is pridefully known as a skinhead. Being a skinhead isn’t about color, race, religion, national origin, or anything of the sort. It’s a brotherhood (the term in no way excluding women) of individuals who share the same passions in what we call being a skinhead. Allow me to explain….
In the fifties and sixties, there were two subcultures that contributed primarily to the coming about of what would be known as “skinheads”. In working class Britain, youths who listened to the latest “modern” music of the day including soul, reggae, and ska, wore the sharpest, smartest clothes and indulged in a fixation with motor scooters (vespas, lambrettas), were known as “Mods”. The mods were typically white kids who had a keen sense of style with working class roots and values. At the same time, in Jamaica, “rudeboys” were gaining recognition. Rudeboys were seen as unruly youth who dressed in suits, listened to reggae-ska, and were notorious for their no-nonsense stance in handling anyone who got in their way. Reggae was a rage that reached far beyond Jamaica, and was becoming very popular in Britain, mainly in mod circles. By the mid to late 60’s, many reggae artists migrated to Britain to take advantage of the prosperous market amongst the white working class kids there.
Birth of Skinheads
With the new clash of subcultures in Britain, black and white unity was inevitable. White British youth, mainly longshoreman, had to shave or close-crop their heads to prevent lice infestation from handling international freight while the Jamaican immigrants were forced to do the same by immigration officials because their dreadlocks were matted with a mixture containing animal manure. The two groups peacefully intermingled in traditional pubs and modern discos that played reggae and ska. A newer group of individuals arose out of the urban working class who were looking for a tougher image to represent their evolving socio-political views; one more aggressive than the mods were representing. These were the first skinheads. With shorter cropped hair (an advantage in a fight) than mods and passions that included football, reggae, and working class values, skinheads were the perfect hybrid of the two groups. A skinhead did not take shit from anyone, they stood firm on their stance on racial unity and working class pride.
After the strong birth of skinheads which was and still is said to have been at it’s peak in 1969, reggae started to diminish though honorably refuses to die to this day. Skinheads still existed but saw adversity in the decline of the culture. Skins true to there roots stayed strong to there beliefs. In Britain, national pride was always a value of skinheads. As always is the case, there were a few individuals who lost touch with the roots of unity and replaced there national pride with racial prejudice. White supremacist groups such as the National Front started to see these impressionable youths as perfect subjects to prey upon for recruiting. Those who were weak and not aware of there roots looked to these groups as something to identify with and skinhead culture was to be permanently tainted. Punk Rock was coming into existence at the time as well. Some of the first punk music was originally popular amongst punks and skins equally. British street punk soon gained the label “Oi!” by Gary Bushell. Though Oi! was supposed to be non-political unity based music, there were still individuals who exploited it and used it as a tool for whatever ulterior motives they had. True punks and skins overlooked these groups and stayed strong with the values of unity. White supremacist groups such as National Front and the British Movement invaded the skinhead scene and stole it’s identity. These racist individuals may have called themselves skinheads, but they were nothing more than “boneheads” to those who knew better. Politics had taken it’s toll on skinheads and things were to never be the same, but the spirit of ‘69 stayed true in the hearts of real skinheads. Just as the original skins of the 60’s, “oi boys” or “bootboys” were the foundation of the scene and were to keep the flame alive.
As the intolerance for the boneheads rose a group started in NYC called S.H.A.R.P. (Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice). Sharp skins were fervent in their anti-racist beliefs in smashing boneheads and keeping their traditional roots alive. Now skins flourished with new passions such as Oi! music, hardcore and other skinhead traditions, they felt that they had more to defend and preserve. Those who knew the truth knew that there was only one kind of skinhead and they grew increasingly unsettled as the moniker was thrown around and claimed with relative indifference. The cult had been tarnished with politics and indifference and it soon became necessary not only to claim skinhead, but to also put an identifier on what TYPE of skinhead you were. True skins faced as much oppression as boneheads as their racist counterparts got more media recognition for their negative and anti-social actions and beliefs. The name skinhead became synonymous with “nazi” to the outside world who had only the media lies to base their opinions on.
Although S.H.A.R.P. garnered a lot of positive attention initially, it later had to struggle against becoming just another word. Any slob who was anti-racist would just get a haircut and call themselves a sharp. True skins didn’t want people who had no clue as to what the cult was truly about to be associated with them. However, a new breed of youth who may have not been around in the old days, but gained knowledge of the cult and strongly identified with its values and traditions, arose out of the ashes of the spirit of ‘69. These kids knew where the roots were and started a skinhead resurrection. Not wanting to make a claim other than just skinhead, they labeled themselves simply “traditional skinhead”. The new breed of skins today may not be the original forefathers of the cult, but there is a strong skinhead presence today that has kept the faith and thus skinheads will never die.
Trouble With “TRADS”
Although most all trads agree that a non-political stance is necessary in being a skinhead, many true skins feel that there was an intolerable presence of “fence-walkers” amongst the ranks. Some trads seemed to think that being indifferent to boneheads or even compassionate, was an acceptable stance on the racism issue. True skins know that is not the case. To quote the traditional American Oi! band Patriot “…a true skinhead don’t judge by your color, only what you do and say…”. The strong anti-racist beliefs are what true sharps and traditionalist share and try to represent at all costs. The bottom line is, RACISM CAN NOT BE TOLERATED.