Throughout the years, certain groups— most notably far-right political groups— have attempted to utilize the energy and anger of the marginalized working class in England for their own causes. During the 1980s, “skinhead” was often linked synonymously with racism due to this connection, and the concept’s original roots were forgotten. However, in recent years many groups have reinstated “skinhead” as a concept firmly rooted in the traditions of Caribbean/British ‘60s culture, and others have reacted by creating anti-racist factions such as “Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice” (SHARP), and even far left-wing factions such as “Red Anarcho-Communist Skinheads” (RASH). The skinhead movement, largely due to the internet and other means of globalization, has spread all over the world and is now prominent in many developing countries where the struggle of the working class is even more apparent than in the West.

Given all this confusion, misconception and taboo, why did the skinhead culture appeal to me? I immediately identified and felt fortified by the values behind it. The idea of being proud of who you are for the person you are as opposed to what you have completely liberated me from the pressure of modern adolescence. The idea of being proud of what you work for instead of what you have gave me guidance during my hardest struggles. The values of loyalty and community ensured that I had friends with me who believed in the same things and who stood behind me. Skinhead, for me, was punk without “rebellion-for-the-sake-of-rebellion.” It’s not only about standing out from the crowd, but standing up for something. Through it I became passionate about music and community, and I learned that I had something inside me to give.

In addition to the values behind the subculture, I love the idea of supporting a tradition that is both stable and fluid. I love listening to first-wave music from the ‘60s and feeling the same thing that generations before me have also felt. I love the connection between different times and different people all over the world. Since becoming skinhead I have travelled to Mexico, Indonesia and Eastern Europe, and met people at all stages in life who felt the same way I feel and who share a community and a purpose. I love the idea that traditions change and adapt by means of the hands of those who adopt them. Due to the fact that “skinhead” has been developed and defined in so many ways, those who participate in it are free to adopt it in ways meaningful to themselves. By each doing it in our own way, each person in his or her own way contributes to this tradition and therefore the tradition grows and becomes even richer. The roots and history of the skinhead subculture have defined, but not determined, its future.

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. I also resent the fact that it’s often dismissed as being a rebellious subculture for the young and aggressive– because it is, and can be, so much more. That being said, it would be a shame to define skinhead as strictly anything. I suppose that with any concept in the world, “skinhead” only has truth insofar as what it means to our own selves. For me, skinhead is about a long-standing multicultural multi-generational tradition based on values, community and heart. It has both defined me and allowed me to define it, and I am I proud to grow up with something that has given me the power to find both myself and something worth fighting for.


Jenny Woo

Jenny Woo is a singer/songwriter who has played in various punk and oi! bands over the years. She is originally from Edmonton, Alberta but currently lives in Moscow, Russia.

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