Skinheads -- WTF?

So the other day I am at my friend’s bar and one of his waitresses is talking to this other guy about punk music. This bar has a punk night. Somehow, the topic of skinheads comes up. Now when I think of skinheads, I think of the racist, sieg heil types (e.g. American History X), but this chick is telling this dude that there are “cool” skinheads, that she calls “old school” (maybe oldskool?) and that these guys aren’t racist, they’re into solidarity with the working man and punk music. “Solidarity with the working man”? What, so they’re labor union activists? Modern day Caesar Chavez types? Something tells me no. I am very skeptical of her explanation, as was the dude she was talking to. Is her story some sort of cover bullshit. Am I right in my perception that self-identified skinheads* are per se racists (and none of this white-pride business, that’s pretty transparent), and if they’re not, they’re certainly sending the wrong signals?

  • not just a shaved head. Moby has a shaved head and I am pretty sure he’s not a skinhead. I am talking about the subculture self identified as skinhead.

Not entirely, at least not in the UK. The whole thing started off as a reggae music fan fashion, after all.

This page details some of the history of the movement, and there are also articles on skinheads and violence, the extreme right, and the American scene on the same site.

I remember when I first encountered the RUSH kids (RUSH: racial unity skin heads). Its’ oretty bizarre, but it seems they find something compelling about being a skinhead that’s completely divorced from the racism thing. I never really got the whoile thing, and I have a funny-looking head besides but to each his own.

The original, original, long ago skinheads (late 1960s) were just a counterculture fashion statement. (They were not so much in “solidarity with the working man” as actual working stiffs that were proud of their “working class” (U.S. blue collar) culture–as opposed to what was perceived as the “artsy” trends that seemed to be the future of kids’ music.)

It originated in Britain and by the time it wandered across the Atlantic, a number of racist groups in Britain had adopted the style, although the original skinheads did not go away. In the States, the racist and non-racist groups got started roughly simultaneously but separately. (Guess which group got the most publicity?) After enough bad publicity, some time in the mid 1980s, a couple of skinhead groups in the U.S. that were tired of being labeled racist just because they had short hair and wore heavy shoes decided to organize into deliberately anti-racist groups. I have no idea how many people are actually members of the racist groups, the anti-racist groups, or the kids that just want to listen to their music and be left alone. It probably depends on which part of the country one lives as to whether one’s contacts witrh skinheads will be positive ort negative as I get the impression (that I cannot substantiate) that the divisions tend to be as much geographic as philosophical. I do remember a couple of skinhead-on-skinhead brawls from the very early 1990s between the anti-racist and racist factions, but I have no idea whether they were serious confrontations between groups or a couple of minor squabbles that the news media played up for all it was worth.

The Wikipedia skinhead article is not bad. The history is only a little more complete than my sketchy synopsis, but they describe the origins and culture better than I did.

Thanks. Apparently, my misperception is a common one. These guys need a good PR man, cause I don’t see the image fading anytime soon.

Thankfully the association of “buzzed head” with “goose-steeping violent bigot” seems to be fading. Back in the 1980s an ultra-short haircut tended to make people think you were a skinhead, now a large percentage of the male population wears their hair that way for whatever reason and most of them are just normal folks with short hair.

I’d say about 50% of my friends look like that; like me they are generally complying with the inevitable vis a vis male pattern baldness and have realized that Ed Harris gets more babes than Friar Tuck.

My older sister, a black woman, went through a phase during adolescence when she hung around some skin heads. I don’t remember them doing much more than smoking weed and listening to punk music, but they were definitely not racist.

The original skinheads (before anyone used the term skinhead) were just mods in the mid-sixties who started to get sick of extravagant mod styles, cut their hair shorter, favor the Jamaican music of the time (and the Rude Boy culture associated with it) over American R&B, and beer over amphetamines. The peak of the original skinhead movement is often considered to be 1969. When the punk movement happened in the seventies, there were again people that rejected the extravagant style of their art-school counterparts, and revived the skinhead look (even less dressy this time around) as well as the love of hooliganism. Soon, groups like the National Front saw a group of primarily angry, white, working-class youths and actively recruited skinheads as members.

Now, there’s all sorts of people who consider themselves skinheads carrying on any of a number of different traditions, or aligned with groups as varied as GASH (Gay Aryan Skinheads) to RASH (Red-Anarcho Skinheads), rendering the whole thing incredibly complex to the casual observer, especially as the extremists, as always, get the most coverage.

If you ever run across Trojan Records’ Skinhead Reggae box set, it’s definitely worth checking out to hear the original skinhead music (which was made not by skinheads, but by Jamaican artists who quickly saw where more money was to be made).

My head has been shaved for about a year now (I got sick of having a 50-year old haircut, replete with part) and I recently grew a beard (subsequently revised to a goatee). Last week a coworker who knows that I’m looking for another job suggested that I grow my hair back in and modify the facial hair, lest I be misconstrued as a racist. I’m actually inclined to agree, as I look a bit like Ed Norton in American History X at the moment. All the same, it’s annoying to think that I’ve got to look like “1950 Middle Management Man” to get past the racism fears out there.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still haven’t shaken the associations with thuggery, militarism, comic book supervillians, whatever.

Also I think the back of a shaven head looks like a penis.

You must have seen some very odd neck/head combinations, or some odd penises…