Featured in issue 5 of Marker.
There are many different facets and interpretations of what the skinhead movement is and what it means. The very concept of “skinhead” seems paradoxical. Skinhead is a subculture born out of multiculturalism (the adoption of Caribbean music and style by white British youth in the 1960s) and then later connected to right-wing extremism. Today the subculture is associated with everything from first wave Jamaican ska to melodic oi!, to politically motivated anarcho-communist and also to racist hardcore music. It’s not difficult to see how those outside of the skinhead scene, let alone those who are involved in it, come up with a million different interpretations and ideas of what it is and what it could be. When I was first asked to write a short article on what the subculture is about, it became immediately apparent to me that there was only one way I could speak about it honestly. There are a million definitions of the term, but I can only speak the truth about it by writing about what it means to me.
[pullquote]I do believe that it’s a shame that “skinhead” has been labelled as a racist phenomenon, when it certainly does more to bring people of different races and backgrounds together. [/pullquote]
I first started out in the punk scene at the tender age of 13. I was always a rebel at heart– I never felt like I fit into the definition of “normal”, and I always had the urge to push the limits of both myself and others. Punk music, for me, was a road to freedom. It gave me the opportunity to break the expectations about what teenage girls were allowed to wear, were allowed to say, and were allowed to be. My adherence to the values of “live for today” and “rebellion” were the foundation of my self-esteem and guided me towards playing in bands, spiking a mohawk and speaking out in class. In short, it gave me the courage to try out different ways of living and of being myself.
However, a few years down the road I came to the conclusion that I no longer needed coloured hair or a studded jacket to stand out in a crowd. I felt like I had enough inside me to set me apart, and although I loved the music and the sentiment behind the punk scene, I no longer wanted to live just for today– I wanted to believe in a bright tomorrow too. I was looking for a philosophy or a way of life that allowed me to take strength in my differences, but that brought home the importance of using these strengths for a purpose. When I ran into a few skinheads at a local punk show, I knew then that I had found what I was looking for.
Skinhead is a movement that was born from the energy of working class youth in impoverished areas of Britain during the 1960s. These individuals found solace in the music and style of the Caribbean immigrants in England at that time, and decided to express their soul and their rebellion by crossing the racial/cultural line and embracing elements of Caribbean culture. The start of the skinhead scene was born from the idea that even though you are working class, the perceived low socio-economic status of this class did not determine your value as a person. Each person should be proud of who they are, and working to put food on the table is not a shame, but an accomplishment. This identification with other marginalized groups (i.e. Caribbean immigrants) created a whole new subculture devoted to cropped hair, Sta-Prest pants and an appreciation for “black” music. Eventually the skinhead scene merged with the punk scene that was erupting in Britain. This was due to the fact that both subcultures deviated from the norm and were developed for and by the youth. Oi! music was born out of this merge— a collision of skinhead values and punk sound.