So far, 2020 has been as surreal as any SciFi flick. With the world the way it is, social media is at the forefront of so many good things, and some topics not so good. That said, earlier this week Facebook blindly banned Anti-Racist Skinhead Profiles. While they were at it, they banned thousands of profiles: personal pages, fan pages, and band pages. Any profile with the label “Skinhead” could be targeted as racist by an algorithm and deactivated.
The truth is, Facebook was trying to be better. Their intention gives us hope of where some of these social media platforms are headed. It was the due diligence and their execution that lacked any semblance of credibility.
The greater truth is that many of the pages in question have zero tolerance for racism and racist comments. That’s what caught so many people off-guard when this all went down. To see thousands of profiles banned was surreal. It ranged from personal pages, fan pages, and band pages. Any profile with the label “Skinhead” was targeted as racist by an algorithm and deactivated. Ask anyone who follows the ska scene and they’ll tell you without the assistance of any algorithm that many of the pages that were wiped were the zero tolerance ska pages.
The general consensus from those in the community is that this was simply wrong. Many of the people targeted have spoken out in their respective communities against racism; Facebook labeling these profiles and terms as racist goes against what everyone in the community stands for. Today is a time where these positive voices need to be heard, banning these profiles only hinders that work.
Today’s forth wave ska community is about unity, peace and diversity. This culture didn’t happen overnight; it started back in the 50’s. Icons of the genre like Prince Buster set the tone and set the genre on a course that has never deviated.
Sure, it’s fair to say it’s gone in different directions in regards to musical elements, which defined the era’s (known as waves), but the social concept remains the same. Just because somethings end, it doesn’t always mean things change.
Then again, change is sometimes needed and those content with the way things are aren’t always the majority, just the loudest at certain moments in our history.
As for the skinhead look, that started back in the UK in the ‘60s in connection to Mod style and Rude Boy Jamaican music that included ska, dub, rocksteady, reggae, and soul music. The BBC put out a great documentary titled “The Story of Skinhead with Don Letts | World of Skinhead | Skinhead Attitude.”
In the documentary, they said “We thought we shared our music we shared our records…[and] enjoyed the music celebrates in particular the Jamaican culture”. Skinhead culture started out of the working class “rebels” and adopted a style: Dr. Marten boots, braces, a smart button up shirt, and jeans. 2-Tone music and many bands, like The Specials, share “a message of unity.”
The traditional skinhead (Trad) culture of the ‘60s and later with its revival, in the’ 80s, the SHARP community reject the racists ideology of “boneheads” (or racist/white power affiliated people who may keep some of the skinhead fashion).
These aren’t skinheads, this is Madness!
Once the second wave of ska hit the UK, bands like Madness, The beat, Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, Bad Manners and the Specials challenged the status quo. Their message became abundantly clear. Stand up for your rights, promote peace, love your brothers and sisters…. and accept those who are different than you.
Other artists like Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger of The beat were known for getting the word out. They challenged the status quo and the powers that be with songs like “Stand Down Margaret.” They also got us to look at ourselves as people and what we do with songs like “Mirror in the Bathroom” …. needless to say, people listened.
Whereas bands like The Specials were making noise of their own and making believers out of everyone with songs like “Ghost Town” and “Nelson Mandela.” These songs told the story of how the general public felt about life in general. They also brought a spotlight to truth of inequality and the need for reform.
We’d love to think they were all well ahead of their time. The sad truth is history repeats itself. We just need a reminder every so often from our sonic heroes of where we’ve been to know where we’re headed.
As time went on, third wave ska bands like No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, The Bosstones and Rancid re-emphasized the unity and diversity of the genre. They also channel the energy of the genre and encourage us all to to fight for the rights of every human being. Now in this forth wave bands like The Interrupters bring that message home.
So with all this history how did Facebook get this so wrong? Again, the intention is well understood, especially in today’s social media environment, but how they went about it remains an unanswered question.
Facebook’s deactivation spree included some iconic names from the ska community. Dave Wakeling of The English Beat among them. Also in this group was Neville Staple, a founding member of The Specials. Also wiped off of the social media platform was his wife and manager, Christine “Sugary” Staple.
SKA SKA SKA
Two Tone was like my religion
Christine “Sugary” Staple
Neville Staple’s Facebook page being one of the many that were targeted and deactivated is astounding. Known as “The Original Rude Boy,” Staple has spent 40 years creating music as part of the 2-Tone movement. Neville still puts out grade “A” music as evidenced by his collaboration with Death of Guitar Pop for their uber-hit, “Suburban Ska Club.”
As Mrs. Staple described how hurtful Facebook’s actions were, she explained that they were given “no word, no warning.”
Facebook silently blocked thousands of accounts without any notice and almost as silently reactivated most of those accounts days later. No apology or statement has followed.
The skinny is that the algorithm that wrongly identified the term skinhead and Neville and Christine Staple’s personal and band Facebook pages misunderstood the history behind skinhead culture. Mrs. Staple points out that, “you need [a] person who will research” the history and that, “there are plenty of documentaries now explaining what the Skinhead culture was about.”
They went on to explain that in the past the media has used the term “skinhead” to describe racist violence; even today the way some in the the media report these stories has created a negative connotation and their delivery has the force that can erase work that many have dedicated years of their life to speaking out against. The history of unity and anti-racism in skinhead culture is why branding all pages with the term as racist is viewed as hurtful.
She went on to say that “just like in any group or movement, there are some bad guys. AND yes, some are racist and happen to be skinhead. There are also good skinheads, they go by SHARPs [Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice]. If you see or hear someone doing something that you know is bigotry…put him up, and we’ve seen that happen.” She went on to say that “Facebook’s technology wiping out entire pages devoted to these anti-racist movements leaves no room for this work to take place.”
They spoke to the work they both do in the community. “We talk to young people, we go out schools and colleges, we talk about racial harmony, we talk about stopping the violence and learning to love each other.” The 2-Tone and Skinhead movements are connected to unity, even the imagery, the checkered, black-and-white, unite.” They went on to describe skinhead as “that street rebel fashion” or that “rebel attitude” and “when I hear the words…I just think of the reggae music.” Much of the original skinhead movement is anti-racist and anti-violent.
So where does this all leave us? Well… due to inquiries from legit media sources that know the genre, and the many voices form the ska community, Facebook reinstated these accounts. It’s a sobering reality that the manner in which this happened is something that can happen again and again and again. We all have to have our voices heard and monitor big brother.
Bottom line, one voice may not sway them, but one voice that is part of a collective which becomes an international voice of the beehive, that’s something they can’t ignore. To do anything less is just madness.
In the end, props to Facebook for trying to do the right thing. They just need to work on the execution. After all, we can all agree hate has no place in a civilized society.
SID 200609 | Whitney Dunkle and Todd Sherman, Editors