welcome to the Skinhead Nation The skinhead cult is a very different animal to that portrayed in newspaper headlines. Skinhead Nation takes you on a journey through the back streets of Britain, America and Europe to hear the skinheads' own story.

 skinheads rule okay!
Among The Mugs

Part One
The Big Apple Bites back

Part Two
Among The Mugs

Part Three
Bring Back The Skins

Part Four
No Mean City

Part Five
Here Comes Johnny Reggae

Part Six
Violence In Our Minds

Part Seven
Ghost Town

Part Eight
Neither Red Or Racist

Part Nine
One Law For Them

Part Ten
Tougher Than Tough

Part Eleven
No One Likes Us

Part Twelve
Us And Them

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The book version of Skinhead Nation is not currently available, but you can buy other skinhead and youth cult books online and by post from www.stpublishing.com
Like a lot of skinheads, I’ve got hundreds of newspaper and magazine cuttings relating to the cult. When I was younger, these tales of bank holiday riots, trouble on the terraces and associated tabloid sensationalism would find their way onto my bedroom wall. Blue-tacked neatly in position, just as they were on countless other bedroom walls throughout this green and pleasant land of ours. A lot of the cuttings have since made it into scrapbooks, but as I’m not the tidiest of people, many more are languishing in boxes waiting for the big day when I finally get around to sorting them out - probably the same day that I’ll finally get around to cutting the grass, fixing my juke box, cataloguing my record and CD collection, putting up those shelves . . .

I was looking through a few cuttings the other day, and it brought it all back to me why skinheads are so hated, so despised, so detested, by people who really don’t know me or any other skinhead for that matter from Adam. Two cuttings in particular caught my eye, both from 1983. The first was from The Daily Mirror, and told of two skinheads who had forced a baby to sniff glue while it lay in its pram in a park in Bristol, England. One of the skinheads held back the baby’s hysterical mother, while the other held a glue bag over the baby’s face. The second came from The Daily Telegraph, and claimed that four skinheads in Co. Dublin, Ireland, had squirted inflammable liquid in a little nine year old girl’s face and had then set fire to her, leaving her screaming in agony and scarred for life.

Such stories about skinheads have appeared in newspapers and magazines the world over. It doesn’t matter how much truth is in the stories - Joe Public is going to read them and chances are he will take them at face value. And if his only contact with the skinhead cult comes from such media sources, he is going to swallow the media stereotype of what a skinhead is, hook, line and sinker.

A good few years ago now, The Guardian newspaper ran a television commercial in the UK which featured a skinhead. It started off by showing the skinhead running as fast as he could along a street towards the camera, as if he was being chased. The voice-over said, “An event viewed from one point of view gives one impression . . . ” Then the camera angle changed and you saw that the skinhead was actually running towards a terrified businessman clinging to a briefcase, obviously expecting to be mugged by our friend with the shaved head. And the voice-over said, “Seen from another point of view, it gives a different impression . . . ” The camera angle then changed for a third and last time, and the voice-over concluded, “Only when you get the whole picture can you fully understand what’s going on.” And you then see the skinhead pushing the businessman out of the way, just in time to stop him from being crushed by bricks falling from the scaffolding above their heads. The skinhead wasn’t being chased and he wasn’t going to mug anybody. He had run the length of a street and risked his life to prevent someone being seriously injured.

The problem with the media in general is that it rarely shows the whole picture. It has its own agenda of what is newsworthy and what is not - time and space constraints alone dictate that everything that happens can’t possibly appear on the evening news or on the front page of a newspaper - and it selects items according to that agenda. And when it comes to the skinhead cult, it has a tendency to only select items from one angle. The angle that shows skinheads as muggers, skinheads as glue sniffers, skinheads as mindless thugs. What’s worse is that if a story doesn’t quite live up to expectations it’s not beyond certain people in the media to slant the story even further with their own bias, exaggerations and half-truths. After all, if a story is worth telling, it might as well be a good one.

“Everyone knows the media is run and controlled by middle class people who have never lived in the environment I grew up in, and how skinheads grew up,” claims Symond, an ex-skinhead from High Wycombe in England. “They’ve no perception at all of how we are because they don’t know us.”
Gavin Watson, another ex-skinhead from the same town, who has gone on to become both a photographer and an actor, agrees. “I find the media absolutely incredible because it is totally and utterly based on misinformation and lack of facts by people who have no understanding of the subject they’re writing about. White working class males are an easy target. There’s never going to be a bunch of football hooligans who are going to get together and take it to court. There’s never going to be a bunch of skinheads who’ll do it either. We’re lower than Bengalis.”

The same attitudes among skinheads can be found the world over. Perry is a skinhead from Chicago, and is half black and half Irish-Italian. “When you walk down the street and people look at you and automatically assume you’re a Nazi just because you have a crop and a flight jacket and a pair of boots, that’s a big burden to carry around. And I’ve really come to despise the media because they’ve really treated the skinhead cult in such an unfair manner that it’s really unforgivable. They really have destroyed their credibility with me because how am I meant to believe what they’re saying about Bosnia or what’s going on in the Middle East when they’re giving such a distorted view of what’s going on in the streets with skinheads? I think the media is the biggest enemy the cult has ever seen.”

Cuttings about glue sniffers or skinheads who set fire to a nine year old girl would never have found their way onto my bedroom wall. I’m surprised I kept them at all. For me, the two newspaper articles are about low life scum. They play no part in the skinhead cult that I know and love, and that would hold true for every self-respecting skinhead the world over. Such stories are in no way representative of the skinhead way of life, but it’s the tiny minority who are always afforded the oxygen of publicity. 600 skinheads enjoying themselves at an Oi! gig, a ska gig or even a white power gig just doesn’t make the news unless there is trouble.

“The media just repeats that typical stereotype of a muggy bonehead, glue sniffing, granny mugging thug and it’s just not like that,” says Watford Jon, another ex-skinhead who was well known as a reggae DJ and who still sings with street punk band Argy Bargy. “It’s a complete myth. A decent skinhead is someone who believes in himself, knows what he’s looking for, knows what he wants, knows how to dress. Just someone who’s well sussed, well clued up, knows what they’re talking about. No mugs.”

“There’s a lot of hippies lost in the media at the moment who still carry a sore point for skinheads and that’s why the cult reflects in the way it does in the media,” adds Steve Goodman, one time editor of the skinhead fanzine, Chargesheet, and author of the skinhead punk novel England Belongs To Me.

Skinheads aren’t exactly angels and very few would actually want to be. Most are more than happy to admit that the skinhead cult has its good and bad sides, just like any other group in society. The media image of a skinhead rarely comes close to how most skinheads view themselves though. In their own eyes, skinheads are the cream of working class youth cults, and if you had to sum it all up in one word, pride would say it all. When you first have your hair cropped and you walk down the street wearing boots and braces, you feel ten feet tall. It’s a magical feeling, a feeling of being somebody. No two skinheads are the same, but all of them share that sense of belonging to something very special indeed. Something that few outsiders seem to be able to understand.

“Skinhead’s a whole attitude,” says Gail, a skinhead girl who lives in County Durham, in the North East of England. “You can’t just shave your head and pull on a pair of boots and say you’re a skinhead. It’s got its own working class beliefs. It’s an appreciation of the clothes, an appreciation of the music. I think you’ve really got to understand the roots to really believe in being a skinhead.”

Gavin Watson actually captured ten years of skinhead life in Wycombe through his love of photography. He took countless pictures of his friends during that time, and together they represent a remarkable and rare insight into skinhead life. It’s unusual for such a record of working class youth to exist, particularly from the inside, but when his pictures were put on exhibition in both London and High Wycombe they were largely ignored by mainstream art critics. If it had been a ten year retrospective look at the gay community of San Francisco they would have been falling over themselves to heap praise on him.

Gavin wasn’t surprised or deflated. Rejection comes with the territory. “Some people seem to be able to relate more to an indigenous tribe living in the South American rain forests or Africa than they can to people living just a few miles away. Skinhead culture, working class culture, is as far removed as some of these tribes out in the middle of nowhere. Some people probably know more about what’s going on thousands of miles away than they do about a culture right under their noses.”

It must be said that there are some excellent journalists out there who deserve nothing but respect. Most people in the media though have little idea of what skinheads are all about and it’s little wonder that a lot of skins see the media as the biggest threat the cult faces. They trade in tales of the stereotype skinhead, the thick fascist thug, because that’s the only newsworthy element of the skinhead cult most journalists can see. By doing so, they simply display their own ignorance, fears and prejudices, and add skinheads to a long list of people who rank journalists even lower than politicians in terms of trustworthiness.

In the late Eighties, when media interest in skinheads in Britain was quite high, certain skinheads started telling journalists complete nonsense to see if they would print it. A London skinhead and wind-up merchant extraordinaire called Tim Wells started telling hacks that ska wasn’t called ska anymore. It was now called lager house, the skinheads’ answer to acid house but with lots more beer. That little lie together with quite a few others appeared in an article about skinheads in The Independent. No doubt some loser will come across it in 20 years time and we will have a lager house revival on our hands.

It’s no secret that you get more honesty and sincerity out of a blow up doll than you do your average hack. In fact, I was tempted to write a book called Among The Mugs (with no apologies to Bill Buford) to catalogue the nonsense that passes for journalism these days because if the media truly is a reflection of what is happening in society, then we must all be living in a fairground hall of mirrors. And if any journalist reading this thinks the last few sentences are a touch unfair, well now you know what it’s like to be on the receiving end for a change.

"If there are skinheads out there, and there obviously are, who have taken heed of what they read in the newspapers to become skinheads, and have gone about causing trouble for no reason, then the blame for that lies at the door of the media. It’s a monster they’ve created.” So says Paul Burnley, a long-time skinhead and lead singer of No Remorse. More about them later, but of course he’s right. If the media wants to continually portray skinheads in the way they do, they then have to take some responsibility for the impressionable youngsters who are attracted to the skinhead look and think they have to go around putting bricks through people’s windows because the newspapers tell them that’s a skinhead thing to do.

Years and years of media bullshit are also largely responsible for skinheads being seen as foot soldiers for one political extreme or another - and more often than not for the extreme right. We all have our crosses to bear in this world, and for one reason or another, skinheads have been lumbered with politics. Strange when you know that most skinheads aren’t even old enough to vote, and by the time they are most will have hung up their boots anyway.

“Politics has done most of the damage to the cult over the years”, says Gail, who has been a skingirl since the early Eighties. “It’s torn it completely in half. It’s a personal thing. I’ve got my own politics, but they’re not to do with me being a skinhead, they’re to do with me being a person. It should have been left out of the scene right from the beginning and we wouldn’t have had so many problems.”

It’s not just any old politics either. Nobody is interested in hearing a skinhead’s views on unemployment, housing, health and education - the four most important issues facing any society today. No, they just want to know one thing. Are you a “Nazi” or an “anti-Nazi”? And your average journalist (and despite the good ones, most journalists are very average) knows the answer before you’ve even opened your mouth. Skinheads are by definition Nazis.

“A lot of people don’t understand anyway,” says Scotti, a non-racist skinhead from Detroit who lives in a mainly black area of the city. “They say, ‘you’re white, you’ve got short hair, you’re a Nazi, you’re a racist, you don’t like me because of my colour.’ You try to explain, and they still don’t understand.”

No other youth cult is subjected to this constant association with racist politics. In 1958, teddy boys were largely responsible for the Notting Hill riots. Throughout their reign, they were seen as both racist and violent - one teddy boy was hanged after stabbing a policeman to death during a gang fight - but today teds are seen as nostalgic rock n’ rollers. In the late Sixties, it was the bikers who adopted the swastika flag, not their arch-enemy, the skinhead, and yet they are always portrayed as loveable outlaws seeking the freedom of the open roads. And then in ‘76, you had Siouxsie, the Pistols and other punk rockers using Nazi regalia, but it’s put down to the rebelliousness of youth.

All a skinhead has to do though is pick up a Union Jack - the flag of his country if he is British - and he’s pointed out as the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. And even when skinheads aren’t even involved they more often than not get the blame. “Every time there is a racist attack, the word ‘skinhead’ will be used by the media,” says Emma Steel, a skingirl from West Berlin, Germany. “Skinhead is used as a synonym for Nazi, whether a skinhead is involved or not. No matter what he looks like, skinhead is the word for it.”

What was it Billy Bragg used to sing? Just because I’m dressed like this, doesn’t mean I’m a communist. Well, there are plenty of skinheads out there who would like it to be known that just because we dress like this doesn’t mean we’re fascists. Patriots yes, but you can have pride without prejudice no problem. Not that many people are willing to listen.

“It’s more than laughable ignorance”, argues Steve Goodman, “because there has been a deliberate manipulation of the truth over the years by politically correct journalists and their chosen causes. They build up and attack whatever they oppose, thereby justifying their own existence and beliefs to the rest of the world. The real shame is those skinheads who thought and think that they’ve got to be involved in politics - they provide the substance for this distorted crap!”

American television is a case in point. There can’t be a talk show on air that hasn’t done a programme on white power skinheads. Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo, Jerry Singer, Donahue, they’ve all been at it. New York TV chat shows regularly flew racist skinheads in from other States to appear on their programmes, while non-racist skinheads in their own backyard were conveniently ignored. Geraldo Rivera summed the whole chat show circuit up as far as skinheads are concerned. He did a programme on skinheads, and while inviting anti-racist skinheads to come down onto the stage, he gestured over to a group of weirdos with blue hair who weren’t even skins to join him. He obviously just wanted a freak show, but Bohdan from United Front and a skingirl also went down dressed in traditional skin gear.

A girl asked Bohdan that if he wasn’t a racist, why did he have white laces in his boots and Bohdan replied that he had nothing to prove to her and the colour of his laces meant nothing.

It wasn’t long before the audience were beginning to get an inkling of what skinhead was really about, and of course Geraldo couldn’t have that. He claimed it was all too confusing and cleared the stage. What he really meant was that without the audience getting all hyped up, he wouldn’t get high ratings and he would lose money. Geraldo and his like pay lip service to education and go all out for titillation. When a fight broke out in the studio and a White Aryan Resistance skinhead broke Geraldo's nose it made you feel that maybe there was some justice in this world after all.

In 1993, HBO broadcast a programme called Skinheads USA - Soldiers Of The Race War. No mention was made of the fact that not all skinheads in the USA are white power - the implication was that all skinheads were racists. What’s more, rather than provide a truly representative guide to the white power scene, the documentary focused entirely on a neo-Nazi group from Alabama called the Aryan National Front. The ANF turned out to be little more than a group of teenage misfits with shaved heads led by a man called Bill Riccio who was both a father and big kid figure rolled into one. At one point, Billy is seen wearing a German army helmet, saluting a Nazi flag pinned to the wall in his front room, while he “sings” along to what is obviously Irish rebel music celebrating the Easter Rising of 1916. A couple of kids do likewise, while the others sit on the settee, no doubt wondering what the fuck is going on. It’s a sad and often laughable attempt to show not only skinheads in a poor light, but also to portray the extreme right as total losers. It is representative of neither.

“The white power skinheads seem to get most of the media attention,” says Rob Hingley. “The media’s blind because they rarely take the time to come down to a gig to interview people and find out what’s going on. They prefer to take their cue from other inflammatory TV shows which portray all skinheads as being right-wing neo-Nazi teenagers which obviously isn’t true. In New York you can find black skinheads, Korean skinheads, other Asiatic skinheads, Spanish skinheads, white skinheads, and the white skinheads are not necessarily the majority. Obviously, in somewhere like Portland there are more white skinheads because the demographics are such that there are more white people there. It’s a mistake to try and typify skinheads as white disaffected urban kids who want to beat up minorities.”

A mistake indeed, but one the media is happy to make on a regular basis. If the choice of location is between New York and Portland, hacks will head for Portland because it’s a safe bet they will get the story they are looking for, especially if they focus only on the white power skinheads when they get there. But like most places, the skinheads in Portland aren’t all racist. “Portland’s really crazy, really violent,” says Pan, who comes from Portland, but who also has links with the Carson City mob in L.A. and the Reggae Boys crew that spans the States. “You’ve got a lot of skinheads fighting other skinheads, but basically it’s just reggae boys, ska boys, Oi! boys, some hardcore boys, fighting the Nazis and stuff. It’s a small working class town and it just breeds skinheads and has one of the most violent climates for skinheads in the United States. Quite a few skinheads have been killed there, and the violence usually reaches levels of brain damage or being permanently ruined for life. The main crew is the Portland Urban Bootboys, Portland Urban Brotherhood or Portland Urban Baldies, that’s like PUB. Ain’t nothing but reality in Portland.”

“It makes it tough on us because HBO put out that Skinheads USA thing when I was back in High School,” says Pete, a SHARP skin, “and for six months the gym teacher was like, ‘Hey Pete’, and he’d sieg heil. I caught it from every direction. My parents were down on me, thinking I was some sort of Nazi, I caught it in school, I caught it in work, I caught it all over the place.”

The BBC did much the same in England when they made the Forty Minutes documentary, Skinheads, in 1981. They talked to a number of bands about appearing on the programme, including The Business, but instead chose the far more controversial band Combat 84 as the focus of the programme, knowing that they had what they were looking for in the stereotypes department in vocalist, Chubby Chris (who incidentally now runs a bar in Thailand).

Skinheads who aren’t racist obviously feel grossly misrepresented by the media’s bias. Although obviously grateful for the publicity in a world where all publicity is good publicity, even a lot of racist skinheads don’t feel the media portrays them in a true light. Again, rather than give a balanced, objective view of the extreme right, the media only seeks to depict those images that lend support to the media’s own agenda, its own prejudices.

“The media only want to portray skinheads in a bad light, and especially right wing skinheads,” says Paul Burnley. “It’s an easy target. Who’s going to stand up for skinheads with the reputation they’ve got? No one is going to do that so you can say whatever you want about them, but you can’t say anything about gays because you’ll have all the MPs who are gay and the pressure groups saying you can’t say that. Same for blacks. It’s political correctness gone haywire.”

Paul Burnley is a leading figure in the extreme right skinhead scene. Whether you agree with his politics or not, there’s no denying that he is articulate, intelligent and offers well thought through arguments. Obviously Paul is not the only right wing skinhead who possesses these qualities, but very few ever turn up in the media spotlight. That’s usually turned on a thick bastard who can only string two words together - “sieg heil”.

Politics have wreaked havoc within the skinhead cult since the late Seventies onwards. The extreme right has attempted to hijack the cult for its own ends and has succeeded to a certain degree. Sections of the left wing, and particularly the extreme left and the trendy left, have reacted by branding all skinheads as ‘Nazis’, a vague term that has lost its true meaning because it is used to describe anyone from a true national socialist to an old granny who complains when she gets short changed at the Asian owned local corner shop.

The extreme right wing rarely criticise the skinhead cult openly, although you can’t imagine rebellious youth cults flourishing under any kind of dictatorship. After gaining the shock value publicity from the use and abuse of the skinhead cult, it’s becoming more common for right-wing groups to distance themselves from skinheads though, or to encourage skinheads to grow their hair so that they don’t stand out so much - the likes of the KKK aren’t called the Invisible Empire for nothing.

Skinheads don’t do much for politicians seeking any sort of air of respectability, but they are perfect fodder to do their dirty work behind the scenes. Those on the left wing who continually attack skinheads are the real disappointment. In their lemming-like desire to be seen to be supporting right-on causes - gays, ethnic minorities, AIDS, whales - they seem all too ready to write off white working class people, and especially white working class youth. The tabloid image of a skinhead fits their own world view so sweetly that they are deaf to anything that might suggest they aren’t quite as clever as they seem to think they are.

“The reason skinheads are so feared is because they are too true,” reckons Watford Jon. “People can’t accept that it is such a staunch way of life and that it wasn’t a fashion like everyone had hoped for, it’s a way of life.”

The right-on muppets really make you laugh. They look down their noses at people who read tabloid newspapers, and tell them not to believe everything they read about loony left councils, the trade unions and so on. As if anyone reads the likes of The Sun for its news content anyway. And then these very same hypocritical bastards are only too ready to believe anything that fits in with their own views, especially when it comes to shock horror skinhead stories.

Of course, the skinhead cause isn’t helped by people who should know better, like Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey. Talking on national radio, he stated that all skinheads were Nazis - even those who said they weren’t. The bloke’s always suffered from verbal diarrohea, but he didn’t always talk complete shit. The radio programme went out during September 1992 on the eve of what was later called The Battle Of Waterloo when anti-fascists fought pitch battles with neo-Nazis near Waterloo Station in London. And as sections of the media were forced to admit, there were skinheads fighting for both causes.

The station was a redirection point for a gig involving Skrewdriver, No Remorse and Swedish band, Dirlewanger, and an event that anti-fascist groups were determined to stop. During the week before the gig the media hyped up the potential for trouble, and by doing so virtually guaranteed that there would indeed be violence. In fact if it wasn’t for the publicity generated, hardly anyone would have known about the gig, but as it was the ranks of both gig-goers and demonstrators was swelled on the day.

There was serious trouble in and around the station, and a number of people required hospital treatment, but little else was achieved. The gig still took place at a pub in South London. So all Pursey and the rest of the media circus did was contribute to a few people getting their heads kicked in. Big deal.

“If white people have a problem with skinheads, I think, well you don’t have a clue mate,” says Barry, a black skinhead from High Wycombe. “You haven’t looked into it at all. It’s as simple as that. What you get from black people is an unnecessary grief because you don’t expect it, you don’t need it. I am a black person so just let me do what I’ve got to do, just let me get on with it. They don’t look at it like that. They look at you as if you’re a traitor.”

The skinhead cult is trapped in a vicious circle, championed by an unholy triumvirate. The extreme right wing sees white working class youth, and particularly skinheads, as prime recruitment material. The media then comes along and distorts this so that all working class youth, and particularly skinheads, are written off as extremists, racists, Nazis and so on. The extreme left add to the farce by not only believing everything the media says about white working class youths, and particularly skinheads, but then colludes with it by feeding it with more garbage about us to be repeated on TV shows, in newspapers and on the radio.

“Both sides just want to use you,” says Chris, an ex-skinhead from Columbia, Maryland, who used to be heavily involved in the white power scene. He started the United White Skins in 1991 to contribute to the fight for race and nation as he saw it, but he has since completely finished with white power politics and the skinhead cult. “The far left just want to use skinheads as scapegoats just like the Klan wanted to use skinheads to do their dirty work.”

The worst offenders are those people who not only put racism at the top of their agenda, but who also seem to think it is the only issue of the day. That in itself isn’t actually the problem. If they’ve got nothing else to worry about in their lives, good luck to them. But when they start ramming it down other people’s throats to the exclusion of everything else, then you begin to wonder about them, particularly when white on white violence doesn’t seem to bother them, but the thought of white on black violence has them out in the streets. It’s also a bit unlikely that you’ll take lectures from people who abhor racist violence and yet see IRA terrorists and their kin as romantic freedom fighters, as is the case with The Socialist Worker’s Party, the prime movers behind the Anti-Nazi League.

The likes of the Anti-Nazi League are very good at pointing the finger at skinheads. Your average black or Asian in this country though has far more important things to worry about than whether or not the BNP has a bookshop in Bexley or how many people picketed a white power gig, and that’s why so few of them bother to go on ANL marches. Most anti-racist and anti-fascist activists in Britain are in fact white, and the reason they devote so much time and energy condemning skinheads is presumably because their experience of racism rarely goes beyond what tabloid headlines and their own propaganda tells them.

Obviously that’s not true of all anti-fascists or even all ANL members, but to varying degrees it hits the nail on the head for a large number of people within the badges and banners movement. The same is true in the USA. With a population of over 250 million, it’s safe to say that the only contact most blacks and other minorities have with white power skinheads is through the crap they read about them in their daily newspaper or remember from HBO’s Skinheads USA.

Of course racism is alive and well in the land of the free, but to focus so much media and anti-racist attention on skinheads takes the spotlight away from the root causes of racism and allows the vast majority of racists to go unchallenged. Racism didn’t start with the coming of the skinheads and it won’t stop when the last skinhead hangs up his or her boots. Skinheads are as racist as society is in general, sometimes more so, sometimes less, but those who continually point the finger at skinheads are no better than those racists who blame immigrants for everything. Both views are based on ignorance and bigotry. Simplistic answers for a complex world.

“You are just living an easy life by scapegoating skinheads because then you can look in the mirror and say I am not a racist because I don’t have cropped hair,” says Emma Steel.

The way some people go on, you’d think skinheads were from outer space, bald aliens from a far away planet. These are the same people who think all skinheads are glue sniffing thickos who mug old grannies. But skinheads don’t give up citizenship of the human race when they shave their heads and wear big boots, and just like everyone else in this world, they have the right to think believe and do whatever they want - as long as such actions don’t infringe on the right of others to think, believe and do whatever they like.

If some skinheads are racist, that’s their choice - you don’t have to be racist to support the rights of others to hold racist beliefs. The media’s focus on them to the almost total exclusion of skinheads who aren’t racists though gives a totally false picture of the skinhead cult as it is today. “The media wants to portray all skinheads as racist,” says Graham, a skinhead from Newcastle. “If you’ve got boots on and short hair, you’re a racist. If you’ve got boots on and you’ve got long hair, there’s nothing wrong with you. The shorter your hair gets, the more racist you’re going to become - and that’s just not right. The length of your hair determines your tolerance of immigrants?!”

Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) was originally started in a bid to combat this media bias, and it has enjoyed a small level of success in various areas. Certainly, since its birth the media has been more likely to give some coverage to non-racist skins, but it is like a drop in the ocean compared to the negative coverage the cult receives. And even when talking about non-racist skins, the same old nonsense gets trotted out. “I’ve read the articles on skinheads in magazines,” says Ally, a skinhead from New York, “and they always say that even the skinheads who aren’t racist are hoodlums, they’ll rob you, eat your babies . . . ”

This has led to disillusionment with having any contact with the mainstream media, and growing numbers of non-racist and anti-racist skinheads see no reason to have to explain themselves to journalists or anyone else. Nobody expects journalists to walk about with Journalists Against Racial Prejudice t-shirts on so why should skinheads? What’s more, very few skinheads live and breath for politics. Those skinheads who do pledge allegiance to one cause or another still have a life beyond it. You’d have to be a very sad bastard if you didn’t. But for the media, you would think that the only aspect of their lives were their political beliefs. It’s the equivalent of thinking professional footballers only exist for 90 minutes every Saturday afternoon, or that Irish people have no other dimensions to their lives beyond the Protestant and Catholic faiths.

This constant focus on just one issue, this blatant tunnel vision, can’t possibly deliver the whole picture, but our beloved media blunders on regardless. SHARP too has fallen foul to this media obsession with politics. By standing up and saying you are a SHARP skin, Mr. Journalist assumes you must be against fascism and therefore a political creature of the left. That’s no doubt true for some SHARP skins, and others who have tried to use SHARP for political ends, but it was never the intention of its founding fathers. The original SHARP logo had the American flag on it purposely to show pride without prejudice. “A lot of people take SHARP as a political thing, but it was never meant to be politically motivated,” says Paul Jameson, editor of The Skinhead fanzine and organiser of regular ska and soul nights in the North East of England. “It was just a statement that we’re not racists. Simple as that really.”

“When SHARP first started in New York it was an excellent idea, but unfortunately the way it has been put into practice here and in other places, it became a left-wing political movement,” says Perry from Chicago. “At this point in the skinhead movement’s history I don’t really see why it’s needed. I don’t see why I should have to wear a SHARP patch to prove I’m not racist. The general public doesn’t really like us anyway so why bother to impress them with something like that. The best development I see in the cult today is the whole non-political movement, the fact that skinheads are dropping politics generally. Like no racist element, no SHARP, and skinheads are just interested in being skinheads. And I see that aspect really growing.”

It is totally ridiculous that skinheads are defined in political terms largely so that people can make head and tail of a movement that has allowed the media to dictate that all skinheads can be defined in purely political terms. That is absolute bollocks. And the sooner more skinheads stop playing the media’s petty games and say they are skinheads, pure and simple, the better off we will be. “There are only a few skinheads in the world and I think we should fucking get together, hang out, get rid of politics,” argues Asian Chris from New York. “I would say to the Nazis, tell the fucking Ku Klux Klan or whoever else hires them to be grunts, to just drop them. They could think for themselves. I would welcome you as a brother as long as you don’t put your politics on to me.”

“Skinheads have been crucified for the sins of others,” says Pan from Portland. “It’s hard to break the stereotype because people will always think of you in a certain way.”

Neil, who has been a skinhead since discovering Madness in 1980 has a story that captures the media’s blinkered vision perfectly. “In the local ‘paper in Hartlepool, there was a girl who had her head shaved for charity and then a few weeks later, she was up in court for some reason and the headline was SKINHEAD GIRL IN COURT. They’d covered the story about her getting her head shaved for charity a couple of weeks before and yet the moment she’s in trouble they said she was a skinhead. It’s unbelievable!”

The same sort of thing appears somewhere in the world on a weekly basis. “Just the other day in The Evening Times, a young kid was called a skinhead, but he was obviously just a little guy going out mugging people,” says Marc, a Glasgow skinhead and reggae DJ. “Anybody and everybody who crops their hair is a skinhead if you believe the newspapers, which is pretty outrageous if you’re walking down the street and somebody wants to have a go at you because of that.”
The mainstream media will no doubt continue to rubbish the skinhead cult, but more than 25 years after the cult first appeared in the council estates of Britain, there are still skinheads around with the determination to keep the faith. Not all of them are racists, and very few of them are mindless thugs on glue. The real mugs are those who can’t see past their own prejudices to discover that for themselves. It’s not just skinheads who think they get a raw deal from the media - everyone from Hell’s Angels to Catholic priests seem to think likewise. The irony is though that the constant and often unjustified attacks on the skinhead cult have just made it all the more stronger. “Once you’ve been involved in the skinhead cult, there’s nothing like it,” says Shaun, a Folkestone skinhead who was until recently a member of local ska and reggae outfit, Intensified. “Perhaps because we’re attacked so much by the press, by the media, by other people’s attitude, we stick together far more than any other group.”
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