Arment: Skinhead stereotypes overlook the truth

Jason Arment

There was a time I thought all skinheads were racists. Because of popular media, and no one telling me otherwise, I associated the white power movement and neo-Nazis with skinheads.

I have since started educating myself about the truth — after being clued-in by some friends.

I delved into literature, read what I could find about skinhead culture and quickly discovered that my thoughts differed from reality. While the white power movement definitely does exist, and their hatred permeates everything they touch, there also was a separate, documented tradition that I found in the book “The Spirit of 69” that had nothing to do with white power, and everything to do with being a skinhead.

“The Spirit of 69” opened my eyes to a culture entrenched in the working class, with a strong sense of community and that listened to Oi!, reggae, ska and soul music. There was aggression to be sure, but getting rowdy with friends is something I understand. I realized there was something going on I previously had no idea about, and I needed to talk to skinheads to learn more.

I was afforded the opportunity to talk to an individual who has been a traditional skinhead for two decades. He asked to be referred to as “Jimmy P.”

I pressed the issue of racism in our talk, I needed my previous ideas associating skinheads with racism to be obliterated in order for new ideas to replace the old.

Jimmy P. has invested a lot emotionally in what it means to be a traditional skinhead. I was surprised when he articulated his thoughts on those that claim skinhead yet are part of the white power movement with grace and poignancy.

“To embrace and to truly love traditional skinhead and publicly be white power? That’s like telling your birth mother you’re adopted — you can’t. I don’t know how you’d reconcile it.

“I don’t have a problem with people until they impose their values on mine. If white power people want to express themselves and openly parade and do whatever, that’s OK,” he said. “But they can’t hijack our title. They can’t hijack our image. I don’t give them the courtesy or the respect of calling them skinheads.”

The most important aspect of being a skinhead is the tight-knit community. In fact, the brother/sisterhood formed among skinheads is one I find close to the ties found among military personal that have served together. They’re part of a group that is vastly misunderstood, and being part of a group like that requires sacrifice of the self. Whether it’s adhering to community standards or dealing with how the media misconstrues what it means to be a skinhead, being a skinhead is a serious decision that requires members to constantly be conscientious of their affiliation.

That’s not to say all skinheads get along. Jimmy P. said something that explained it aptly, “One of our brothers said it best, he said: ‘You’ll find brothers where ever you go, they just aren’t your brothers.’”

When I asked another traditional skinhead local to Des Moines — who wishes to remain anonymous — what being a skinhead meant, they said, “When you boil it down, it’s a working class subculture that has a higher level of pride and loyalty than most groups or subcultures do.”

I think that pairs with Jimmy P.’s idea that being a skinhead is, in a large part, “Fun, fashion, dancing and friends.” That phrase paints a pretty good picture of what it means to be a skinhead.

The evolution of my opinion on skinheads is pretty remarkable. I went from the status quo of buying into what media was selling, “All skinheads are violent racists,” to understanding that the opposite is true. Are there racists that claim skinhead? Yes, and they allow blind hatred to overwhelm the strong tradition that is completely opposite of what they are doing.

What really troubles me though, is how I ever started out at ignorance from square one. I thought I was smarter than that, better than that. I thought I didn’t need to just believe what I was told. I let myself down. This is your chance to, better than believing what media shoves down your throat, reject a monolithic view that has no basis in reality.