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What Is a Skinhead?

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Kay is a college student and small business owner who doubles as a freelance writer. They particularly enjoy writing about video games.

Doc Marten's are the preferred boots among skins.

Doc Marten's are the preferred boots among skins.

Throughout history, there have been a lot of people in this world who've had a bad reputation, and granted, many of those people deserved it—terrorists, the KKK, Nazis, gangs—the list could go on.

However, there's at least one group of people who have earned their bad reputation from having the wrong kinds of people become active in their scene instead of bringing it upon themselves. These people are who you would call "skinheads."

Now, before you jump to conclusions, hold on just for a moment. It might sound crazy for someone to justify these people, but what do you really know about skinheads? When most people think of skinheads, the first thing that comes to mind is often a racist Neo-Nazi white male with unsightly tattoos all over their body and a generally threatening demeanor.

They might even think of someone like this being affiliated with the KKK. How about a redneck? Sometimes that's the case. Except all of this couldn't be farther from the truth. There are two sides to be evaluated here, with two very different types of people, so let's start with the history of this group.

This is a sketch of a mod and his scooter.

This is a sketch of a mod and his scooter.

What Is a Skinhead?

It all began in the United Kingdom back in the late 1950s and early 1960s when people had more disposable income to spend however they pleased. Many young people spent their money on high-end fashion trends popularized by U.S. R&B groups, British rock bands, and even movie stars.

These young people became known as mods and were characterized by their consumerism and devotion to fashion, music, and scooters, which were all major staples in this subculture.

Of course, not everybody during the time could afford to keep up with such trends, and this caused two very specific groups to exist within the mod subculture. The peacock mods (also known as the smooth mods) always had the latest fashions and were known to be the least violent of mods, while the hard mods were more working class.

With significantly less money, hard mods opted for boots, straight-legged jeans, button-down shirts, and suspenders. When they did have money, they'd spend it on tonic suits and other classy outfits that they could wear to dance halls where they'd enjoy music of the ska, rocksteady, and reggae genres.

These people often had closely shaven heads (mostly for workforce reasons and for ease of maintenance), which is where the term skinhead arose from. By the late 1960s, this was what they were commonly known as.

Did You Know?

The checkerboard pattern became associated with ska during the two-tone wave in Britain. It's widely believed to represent whites and blacks working together and being equal, which was still fairly new during this time period. Two-tone ska bands were often composed of both white skinheads and Jamaican rude boys.

While rude boys have been involved in ska music since its inception, the skinhead culture had a considerable amount of influence on the two-tone wave of ska. One of the most popular ska record labels, Trojan Records, even started in Britain. The Trojan helmet logo would later serve as the symbol for SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice).

This is a Jamaican and British flag with the Trojan Records helmet uniting them. On the flag, white and black skinhead girls stand across from each other.

This is a Jamaican and British flag with the Trojan Records helmet uniting them. On the flag, white and black skinhead girls stand across from each other.

Where Did the Racism and Hate Come From?

These skinheads were not racist, seeing as the original skinhead subculture was composed of both whites and blacks. Of course, there is always the exception with anything and anyone, but as a whole, skinheads did not care about the color of a person's skin, and many weren't even too big on politics (later on though, this would change).

With most of their influence in music (ska, rocksteady, and early reggae) coming from the rude boys of Jamaica (many of them were now in Britain since there was a surge of emigration from their homeland), it wasn't unheard of to see these two groups of people together often, especially at dance halls where they could drink and dance.

In fact, the second wave of ska that emerged during the 1970s (known as two-tone) most likely would not have come about without the cultural mixing of skinheads and rude boys.

They focused on working, staying true to their friends, and—most of all—enjoying music and having a good time. Things wouldn't stay so simple for long, though. The 1970s quickly came, and the skinhead subculture began to fade while also splitting off into even more subcultures (though they were small and are not of much importance to this article).

It was during the late 1970s that some skinheads began associating themselves with political movements such as the British Movement and the National Front, which was a far-right, whites-only political party that firmly believed that many of the socio-economic issues that Britain faced were due to the non-white emigrants in the UK.

Even Neo-Nazis began to take the skinhead name and warp it, adopting the clothing style of boots, braces, and shaved heads. The 1970s changed everything.

It's because of these different groups that people often think of skinheads as being violent white supremacists. It's worth knowing that even though white supremacist "skinheads" (they really do not even deserve to be called as such, and true skins will often get angry because of this) exist in large numbers, so do anti-racist skinheads.

These skinheads are called SHARP skins. SHARP stands for Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.

When referring to skinheads, the term tradskins is often used and preferred instead since it means "traditional skinheads." These are skinheads that keep true to their original roots and aren't racist. They're (usually) also not affiliated with other skinhead movements such as RASH or SHARP.

What Are the Different Types of Skinheads?

In the beginning, there were only skinheads. With everything that happened during the 1970s, though, such as the downfall and revival of skinhead culture, the National Front, new mainstream musical genres, and the stress of politics, skinheads began to create their own groups.

SHARP

SHARP stands for Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. Starting in 1987 in New York, its purpose was to show that being a skinhead wasn't all about racism and political extremism. It was originally a sort of organized group, but became more of an individual title that any skinhead who was against racism and political extremism could claim.

RASH

RASH stands for Red and Anarchist Skinheads. To clarify, a redskin is a left-wing socialist or communist skinhead, and an anarchist skinhead is one who believes there is no use for government or authority. RASH was begun in 1993 due to fighting between members of the SHARP in NYC. RASH skinheads are not racist and promote far left-wing ideas.

Traditional Skinheads

Also known as tradskins, traditional skinheads are those that identify with their original skinhead roots. They're not racist and are not politically extreme. They pretty much call the Spirit of '69, a book published in the 1990s about the original skinhead culture, their bible. They're also called trojans.

White Supremacists

Also known as Neo-Nazis, most skinheads will not even refer to white supremacists as skins and will instead use the term boneheads. They're racist and often do not even know anything about the original skinhead culture or music. They're frequently associated with the far-right.

Oi!/Punk Skinheads

Oi! or punk skinheads are heavily affected by the punk scene. They're usually more tattooed and dressed in a more punk-like fashion. Many of them are heavily opinionated on politics, while others couldn't care less—it completely depends on the person.

In the United States, they are also sometimes called hardcore skinheads. It's not uncommon for them to be aggressive or to pick fights with others.

There are always other smaller groups and types of skinheads, but those are the most frequently found. It's also worth noting that out of those listed, tradskins are usually the most friendly and non-violent of them all, keeping a laidback demeanor unless provoked—that's when things can get ugly.

Is the Skinhead Culture Big?

Believe it or not, the skinhead scene is still pretty big for such a small subculture, especially in the UK, Mexico, and even here in the United States. Though it waned during the early 1970s, the later years of the decade brought on a revival with the introduction of punk rock.

Skinheads from the later 1970s and onward would adopt a more punk-influenced style, but there were and still are skins who preferred the traditional style. Later, with the popularity of third-wave ska reaching its peak in the 1990s, skinheads began to crawl out of the woodwork once more.

More and more people are becoming educated on what a skinhead really is, helping them wash the dirt from their name once and for all, and to this day, they still believe in the same things—unity, good music, equality, and having a good time.

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.