Racism within The skinhead subculture
As annoying as it is, the one question almost everybody, who is not a skinhead wants to know, is about the racism connection to skinheads, which has become almost a synonym of the word Skinhead
I will try to explain the reasons behind it. Without denying or justifying. I can only talk from my own real life experience, having grown up in a multi racial environment, from a very young pre school age child. On a council estate on the outskirts of London, in a town called High Wycombe.
Britain had an empire for almost 400 years, which covered 1/3rd of the world, encompassing many cultures and races. Every British person was bred to work for it, as a military serviceman, Industrial worker, or tradesman. The Second World War put an end to Britain’s power base. Germany surrendered, but the UK lost more than most nations.
Skinhead appeared towards the end of the 1960’s a boom time, with high employment, as the Empire was being closed and sold off, a boom needed cheap labour, to fill the shortage, created by the war losses. The government of the day decided to award all ex colonies British citizenship, and actively went out to places like The Caribbean and India to recruit a workforce. Those early immigrants arrived in the UK and were immediately awarded social housing. The British working class communities were forced to accept these new cultures into their communities, with no real education or understanding.
A deep fear of change arose. This together with the economic bust of the 1970’s, huge industrial turmoil, with strikes, 3 day working week, and a poverty wide spread across the country, a collapse of Britain as a national power and world influence. Racism was an immediate reaction. Immigrants taking jobs from the countries indigenous working class population. Three million unemployed – three million immigrants, easy mathematics. But it wasn’t only the unemployment, there was a huge shift in culture. The single parent family, shop hours changing. Foreign languages and street gangs on the estates. Fear and ignorance of the unknown.
The average skinheads age was around 14 years old, he would be very influenced by his parents, the media around him. Political groups set up, and actively recruited these kids into the fold, to act as street fighters. The organisations, The British Movement and National Front became a fashionable rebellion, very popular in the white working class areas, organizing highly visual street marches, adopting symbols of previous fascist groups of the 1930’s.
Here we see photographer Nick Knight photographing a young Skinhead lad. Nick later produced a book of images, which became mainstream reference for the Skinhead Subculture. Nick is now one of the UK most highly successful and wealthy fashion photographers
Although skinhead had originally come from Mods, the music of Jamaican Reggae and Ska popular. The skinheads of the mid to late 70’s and 80’s were much more of an aggressive hooligan element, wrapped up in political instability. The cold war made it popular to be anti Communist. The Racial tension and conflicts created by mass immigration, made it real life on the streets and school yards to associate with your own, fight for your territory. But most of it was just a fashion, rather than a violent reality, often just a rebellion to left wing leaning school teachers.
In 1981 riots spread across the UK, as a reaction to police oppression, political instability and anger at the governments, who had destroyed industry and communities. Most of the riots came from the Black areas , like Brixton in London, St Pauls in Bristol, Toxteth in Liverpool, The Moss side in Manchester. But there was one which happened in Southall, west London, which was a Bengali Sikh area. This went off between Skinheads and the local population. A pub venue called the Hanborough Tavern, which had skinhead bands playing was burned to the ground, the skinhead kids in attendance almost being burned to death. But Margaret Thatcher, notorious for knee jerk reaction banned skinhead Oi! Music overnight. Records pulled from the shelves, blacklisting, no radio play. The fact 2tone, which was also a very popular music of the same time, was reggae based, with multi racial members, was ignored. Those bands distanced themselves from Skinheads or stopped playing.
Many of the mainstream Skinhead/Punk bands, known as OI! bands folded up, labels dropping them. But it didn’t kill skinheads. It just pushed it underground, and made an already violent subculture, more violent, and radicalised some, deeper into political extreme groups. In reality the actual racial violence was quite small, it was often nothing more than a few skinheads fighting a few left wing students, but it grabbed huge media attention, which actually fuelled it. Kids became skinheads, and thought it was a rule, to be racist, even though a big number of skinheads came from all white areas, and had probably never met a non white person. This rumbled on throughout the 1980’s, creating a small industry for some. Racialist motivated skinhead music was made and exported, which, not unlike Irish rebel music, got a fan base and fantasy wrapped around it. But also raised reasonably large amounts of money for those involved, and their political groups.
Industrial Strikes ravaged the 1970’s, ultimately culminating in a mass cull of industry right across the UK, making millions unemployed and destroyed working class communities
Skinheads never really recovered the huge numbers of 2tone 1979-1982.
The media constantly wrote that any violence or racism reported must therefore involve Skinheads, who would always be portrayed as the instigators, which drove huge divides and enhanced the public persona, but also exported the skinhead image, as one of a racist thug. White supremacist groups in USA, Hollywood and parts of Europe picked up the image and uniform, a monster was fed. Even today, and although Indonesia has one of the biggest Skinhead scenes on the planet, California has a big Hispanic Skinhead scene, whenever the word Skinhead is mentioned in the press, any random Racist white person, is often what they are talking about.
- Yea good….a few things I would say is that there was racism with the skinheads in the 60’s ” Enoch Powell Rivers of blood speech” Paki bashing and the likes….. Also the racism of the 70’s was a trend of going against the status quo such as lefty teachers and a lot of kids attracted to being a skinhead were so because it was unpopular with the masses as with the NF…a lot went along with it as they did with the uniform…it was part and parcel…those days if you became a skin you became a racist and a lot loved to revel in there 5 minutes of TV glory seig Heiling for the cameras even though a lot couldn’t care…it was all about being anti social and what better way than pretend you agreed with what the country had fought against not 40 years previous….if we weren’t the outsider then we would make ourselves the outsider by any means possible…..I would also say that before becoming skinheads we were no bodies, part of a massive crowd then when we became skinheads we become something and infamous which as a kid we all yearned for. Jim
- Skinheads were a violent youth culture, and a big part of that was street fighting with other young men, These days, would be seen as very politically incorrect. Squaddies, Pakistanis and even Gays were reported in the press, as being targets for skinhead aggression. But much of that was just media exaggeration, The mass majority of fighting was with any other group of young, mainly white men.