Are Skinheads Racist? A Look at Their History and What They're About

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 the 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 lets start with the history of this group.

Sketch of a mod and his scooter.
Sketch of a mod and his scooter. | Source

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. A lot of the young people spent their money on high end fashion trends that were brought about by U.S. R&B groups, British rock bands, and even movie stars. These young people became known as mods, who would be known for their consumerism, devotion to fashion, music, and scooters, which were a major staple 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 as being the least violent of mods, while the hard mods were more working class: With significantly less money, they 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 ease of maintenance), which is where the term skinhead arose from. By the late 1960s, it was what they were commonly known as.

Doc Marten's are the preferred boots among skins.
Doc Marten's are the preferred boots among skins. | Source

Did You Know?

The checkerboard pattern became associated with ska during the 2-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.

Musicians of 2-Tone ska bands were often composed of white skinheads and Jamaican rude boys.

While rude boys have always been involved in ska music since it's inception, the skinhead culture had a considerable amount of influence on the 2-Tone wave of ska. One of the most popular ska record label, Trojan Records, was even begun in Britain. The Trojan helmet logo would later serve as the symbol for SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice).

Jamaican and British flag with the Trojan Records helmet uniting them. On the flag, a white and black skinhead girl stand across from each other.
Jamaican and British flag with the Trojan Records helmet uniting them. On the flag, a white and black skinhead girl stand across from each other. | Source

Where did the Racism and Hate Come From?

These skinheads were not racist, seeing as the original skinhead subculture was compromised 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 persons skin, and many weren't even too big on politics (later on though, this would change).

With most of their influence in music coming from the rude boys of Jamaica (many of them were now in Britain since there was a surge of emigration from their homeland), such as ska, rocksteady, and early reggae, 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 2-Tone, most likely would not have come about without the culture 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 who 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, 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, which stands for Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.

When referring to skinheads, the term tradskins is often used and preferred instead since it means "traditional skinheads," who 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.

Even Neo-Nazi's began to take the Skinhead name and warp it. It's because of this that when people think of skinheads, they think of white supremacists. It's worth knowing that while the white supremacist subculture (aka Neo-Nazis) still exist in large numbers, so do anti-racist skinheads. These anti-racist skinheads are usually called SHARPs, which stands for Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.

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: Stands for Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. Starting in 1987 in New York, it's 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: 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 SHARPs in NYC. RASH skinheads are not racist and promote far left-wing ideas.
  • Traditional Skinheads: Also known as tradskins, 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 them 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: Skinheads that 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 US, they are also sometimes called hardcore skinheads. It's not uncommon for them to be aggro 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 laid back demeanor unless provoked -- then things would 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 US. 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 it's 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 believed in the same things -- unity, good music, equality, and having a good time.

Skinheads Dancing: Do They Still Look Intimidating?

Comments 10 comments

ananceleste profile image

ananceleste 4 years ago from California

Interesting piece of information. Not many people know about this fact. Unfortunately, because of those that call themselves Skinheads, commiting hate crimes,walking with a chip on their shoulder all the time, the image is tainted for most of the public.

TheMagician profile image

TheMagician 4 years ago from Tampa, FL Author

Yes, it really is unfortunate! I've been lucky enough to know a small handful of SHARP's, and they're some of the most wonderful, community-active, and fun loving people I've ever known. You really can't judge a book by its cover :)

ananceleste profile image

ananceleste 4 years ago from California

I wish it were like that everywere. Where I live the skin heads are bad news, and if you ask around here they would twist their mouth and complain. They don't even know what a sharp is!. Grat hub.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 4 years ago from San Francisco

Very useful and interesting information. I've typically recoiled from skinheads, who I saw far more often in Europe than here. I guess I can't assume they're racists unless they've proven themselves to be.

sunforged profile image

sunforged 4 years ago from

I grew up in the NYHC scene, neonazi skinheads were nowhere to be found, but the SHARP variety always had a presence. Although, I don't believe any would have directly affiliated with that moniker, the anti-swatsika logo was a very common patch though. But, you wouldn't find such merry drunken skanking (as depicted in the video) going on in those pits

TheMagician profile image

TheMagician 4 years ago from Tampa, FL Author

NYHC scene? That must have been a blast! Unfortunately where I'm at (Florida) there seems to be quite a few neonazi skinheads, but in other parts there are SHARP's... and they actually prefer to be called that,and they're quite merry, surprisingly. I guess it's different everywhere!

killeragnew 4 years ago

The SHARP and RASH skins are frequently just as bad as the boneheads. Aggro(violence) has always been a part of our culture, for some skins more and for some skins less (I wont fight unless it's brought to me) but the anti-racist skins are quite fond of forcing their views on others. They frequently take the stance of if you're not with us you're a nazi, and call apolitical skins "fence-walkers" and will attack us out of nowhere. now I loathe the nazis as much as anyone else with half a brain, but it is unacceptable to attack a man based on his beliefs alone, regardless of how repugnant they may be. To do so makes them as bad as those they hate. Not that they are all that way.

Ausseye 4 years ago

Hi TheHistoryMystic: Your outline has brought the whole issue of skin and bones AHEAD for us novices. Feel better informed and will make no bones about it. Just a note to say I love history and this is just one of many written by someone who careā€¦great read

Alberic O profile image

Alberic O 3 years ago from Any Clime, Any Place

Interesting read.

jeremybushnell profile image

jeremybushnell 3 years ago from Tacoma, WA

Glad I found this. Not enough people know the roots of the term skinhead. Thanks for writing this.

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