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Skinhead Dreams

From Skinhead literature to Skinhead 'zines, the struggle to define what it means to be a Skinhead is being fought out in black and white.

From Skinhead literature to Skinhead 'zines, the struggle to define what it means to be a Skinhead is being fought out in black and white. As enmity between racist and anti-racist Skinheads heats up, those in both camps are drawing inspiration from a little-known literary subculture where the common language is usually one of violence.

A series of novels, most of them British, have sold in the millions since they began appearing around 1970 — giving the lie to the stereotype that Skinheads don't read.

In them, in language that is often cartoonish, a paper battle is being fought out between the two main factions of the Skinhead street culture, depicted in words that hold little back.

"Joe grinned sadistically and jumped forward," James Moffat, one of the most prolific authors, wrote in Suedehead, published in 1971.

"Like a spear, his umbrella found a soft, fleshy target. The African's anguished bellow sounded like a cat call to arms in Joe's brain. The umbrella slashed out, catching an innocent bystander across the nose."

More recently, as violence by neo-Nazi Skinheads grows, anti-racist skins have increasingly taken up the language of street fighting. "Black and white fists thudded into nationalist faces, while ... boots simultaneously smashed against exposed groins," author Stewart Home writes in his 1997 book Blow Job.

"ZOWIE! Several right-wingers staggered backwards spitting out gouts of blood and the occasional piece of broken tooth."

Not everyone writes so approvingly of such attacks. Steve Goodman, Skinhead author of England Belongs to Me, critically examines violence in non-racist as well as Nazi Skinhead culture. Goodman emphasizes nonviolence to his fellow skins.

Skinhead literature of all kinds is enjoying a renaissance. Several writers depicting Skinhead life have released new novels in the 1990s, and 18 novels written by Moffat under the pseudonym of Richard Allen were re-released in a six-volume set in 1992.

The many writings of Moffat — who publicly distances himself from the racism of his main character — have become required reading for Skinheads of all denominations.

Unlike Moffat, racist author O.T. Gunnarsson makes no bones about his neo-Nazi ideology. "The Field Marshall signaled to a line of troopers who stood behind a line of Jewish big-wigs whose hands and legs were tied," Gunnarsson rhapsodizes in a 1993 novel, Hear the Cradle Song.

"... Each trooper stepped behind the Jew opposite him, took a knife from his belt and slit the chosen one's godly throat from ear to ear."

Eric Ward is the associate director of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment.