Extremist Skinhead Subcultures Are a Dangerous Problem
Shaving your head can be empowering, but racist skinheads use empowerment destructively.
“Bald is beautiful” proclaim many men who proudly shave their heads to achieve a look that suits them and makes them feel comfortable with themselves. And for the vast majority of those who shave their heads, it’s empowering in a positive, “beautiful” way.
But there are those for whom the empowerment is not quite so beautiful, namely, the subculture that is identified in the public mind as “skinheads.”
Not all skinheads are extremists
It’s important to point out that not all people who self-identify as “skinheads” fit the popular image, which is largely that of head-shaved males with extremist (often neo-Nazi) and racist viewpoints. There are, however, several skinhead groups, such as Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) and Anti-Racist Action (ARA), that make a point of loudly proclaiming they are nonracist and/or nonpolitical. And the British Oi! bands that came out of the skinhead movement starting in the 1980s also have been focused more on music and lifestyle than on racism and the politics of hate.
Still, when one talks of skinheads, the image that most often comes to mind is of intensely angry, hate-filled young men with extremist views on people from nonwhite and non-Christian backgrounds.
“The skinhead ideology is that by being white you are superior,” testified a psychologist in a 1999 first-degree murder case in which a skinhead youth was accused of, and eventually pleaded guilty to, murdering an African immigrant. The ties between skinheads and white supremacist movements are well known.
The racist skinhead subculture also often embraces fascistic military attitudes and a belief that armed action may be necessary to rescue America from a perceived slide into degradation. In 2008, two skinheads involved with Supreme White Alliance were arrested before they could put into action their plans for a killing spree in which 88 people (including children) would be killed; in addition, 14 African-Americans were targeted for beheading. (The numbers 88 and 14 were not chosen at random: according to the Anti-Defamation League, “88” is a code for “Heil Hitler,” while “14” refers to a 14-word white supremacist slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”) The spree was planned to culminate in the assassination of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Leaving the skinhead milieu can be difficult
Ricky (not his real name) is a former member of a very local skinhead gang who is now in his early 20s and says he has reformed. “I don’t do the skin no more,” he states. “That doesn’t mean I don’t hate. But I’m trying to hate better, hate single people, not whole groups and races and things of people.”
Ricky joined a local skinhead gang when he was 15. He felt that in his neighborhood, joining a gang of some sort was the only option for survival. “We didn’t drug,” he says. “My mother liked that. Lots of skinheads don’t drug. I was told that the Jews and the (blacks) wanted white folks to drug, to keep them out of it, so lots of skinheads stay away from them for that.”
According to Ricky, the skinheads he knows are also more responsible than other gang members. “It’s all about working hard and being all kind of committed to things,” he says. “And about sticking up for your dads, cause they’re always having to work 50 or 60 hours, or cause they’ve been pushed out of jobs by immigrants and all that.”
Ricky feels lucky that he got out of “the scene” before doing anything that he calls “really bad, like bombing or killing or stuff.” And he’s grown his hair out but “really misses being slapheaded.”
“I looked shiny when I was shaved,” he says. “I don’t do it now, cause I don’t want to get back into the scene. But yeah, I felt a lot of power; I felt all balls-up when I was gleaming and hanging with a bunch of other guys with nothing but skin on top. We were like, ‘Don’t mess. Just don’t mess.’ Because we done something most guys don’t do. We said, ‘Send the hair to Hell! Who needs it?’ And it felt great. The skin put us together; it made us stronger. I miss that a lot.
“But I don’t miss the hate. I try not to.”
The power that Ricky talks about, the strength that he and his fellow gang members felt from shaving their heads, does not have to be a bad thing. As mentioned, there are many skinheads who are not part of racist/extremist movements. But the public perception of skinheads as belonging to a dangerous subculture has a very strong basis in reality. The fact that racist skinheads are bald has nothing to do with the fact that they hold these misanthropic viewpoints. But their very distinct visibility does nothing to improve the public perception of baldness.
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