“Skinheads” have become the most recognizable group within the white supremacist movement in America and Europe. Their unique haircuts and modes of dress set them apart from nonracist youth, and their propensity for violence distinguishes them from their more staid racist colleagues. The skinhead movement has spread throughout most Western nations and has evolved far beyond its simple beginnings in 1960s London.
The earliest British Skinheads appeared in the late 1960s as an outgrowth of the “mod” movement. They were sons of the working class and began dressing in what was essentially a caricature of the working man’s uniform: short denim jeans, T-shirts, suspenders, and black Doc Marten boots. They clustered in nightclubs featuring reggae bands in the early 1970s, and music remains central to the subculture, though the preferred musical genre has evolved from reggae to punk to Oi! (a blend of “street punk,” various forms of rock, and football cheers) and to White Power rock-and-roll.
In the early twenty-first century, there are essentially two conflicting skinhead cultures, both remarkably similar yet in violent opposition to each other. On one side of the divide are nonracist skinheads, led by organizations such as Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP) and Anti-Racist Action (ARA), and on the other side are the racist skinheads. They dress in a similar manner, they listen to similar music, and they spend time in the same clubs, but they fight over which side represents the true skinheads—the white supremacists or the antiracists.
Skinheads in Britain generally eschew large, organized groups, preferring to spend their time in tight-knit, geographically determined packs. The groups, or gangs, are overwhelmingly male, and the rare female is generally treated as a sexual object, unless she is in her thirties or older, when she may be treated as a mother to a local gang. Skinhead violence occurs over issues of turf, class-based ideology, and ethnicity. The violence is often brutal, and it typically involves mass assaults against individuals or smaller groups. The preferred method of violence is a stomping party, in which a group gathers around a downed victim and stomps him with their Doc Marten boots. Such assaults usually result in death or severe injury.
Christensen, Loren. 1994. Skinhead Street Gangs. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press.
Knight, Nick. 1982. Skinhead. London: Omnibus Press.
Marshall, George. 1996. Skinhead Nation. Glasgow, Scotland: S.T. Publishing.
J. Keith Akins