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Essay/Term paper: Skinheads in the antelope

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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William Finnegan's essay "The Unwanted" explains the history and
make-up of the Antelope Valley and then explores the lives of some
teenage citizens in order to discover reasons that two rival gangs have
such a significant role in the community and on its people. Absent
parents and lack of education are just two factors facing teens that
ultimately led the Los Angeles Suburb into becoming a society where
Skinheads and Boneheads are a norm and accepted as a part of everyday
life. C. Wright Mills' idea of the sociological perspective, looking
past the facades, is useful when analyzing the micro; individual, and
macro; broad, causes of teens becoming skinheads. Each day America
seems to become more and more diverse. Some people learn to accept the
fact that America is made up of many different ethnic groups, while
others believe the only ethnic group should be their own. There are
various reasons for discrimination and it is a very controversial
issue. In Finnegan's article he describes two gangs with opposing
views concerning racism and how each group expresses their beliefs.
The racist and anti-racist beliefs don't always end at the individual.
Death is an all too common end and when an opinion becomes life
threatening a problem arises. According to Finnegan, one of the two
major gangs that occupy the streets of Lancaster and the Antelope
Valley is, "a white-supremacist skinhead gang, the Nazi Low Riders
(N.L.R.'s)" and the other is, "their rival gang of anti-racist
skinheads, the Sharps" (1998, p.88). One major quality the two gangs
share is their lack of education. Most, if not all, of the teens
Finnegan interviewed, dropped out of school, even though later some
used other means of getting a high school diploma or acquiring a higher
education. Also it appears both gangs tend to resolve their issues
with violence. Most people would agree that some violence is in
everyone, but it seems that well educated people often find other means
to conquer their problems or go about solving them. Through history
knowledge has proved to be an unavoidable part of life. As children in
the community began dropping out of schools in vast numbers these kids
were forced to, willingly or not, gain knowledge elsewhere (1998). A
macro cause for the growing numbers of students dropping out of school
and joining the gangs, could be that the ideas and values of those
gangs quickly spread through the streets and classrooms. This Leads
the teenagers to make decisions about wether or not they agree with the
beliefs of the N.L.R.'s or those of the Sharps. Often if the students
disagree, they join the Sharps, and if they agree they join the
N.L.R.'s. The ideas and values associated with the N.L.R.'s seem to be
very similar to that of the Ku-Klux-Klan (K.K.K.). Which suggests that
the K.K.K. may have had something to do with the establishment of the
N.L.R.'s. Using Charon's definition of culture and counterculture, a
group that opposes the values and mores of its culture, we might
conclude that the K.K.K. is a counterculture, in the sense that it has
its own idea's, values, morals, norms and customs. Thus, the N.L.R.'s
can be considered a subculture, or runoff, of the K.K.K. (Charon
1998). Now I will examine some micro causes of Lancaster children
dropping out of school. Absent parents may have been a cause for
children to look to their peers for answers instead of adults. For
example Mindy Turner's widowed mother worked at Thrifty Drugs to
support three kids. Subsequently she was unable to devote much of her
time to raising them (Reader 1998). Mindy's case is very common in
the Valley. Many of the parents there either were divorced, abusive
and or had to travel and work long hour jobs (Reader 1998). Whatever
it is that causes teens to drop out of school, the fact is, as long as
conditions there persist, the number of dropouts is sure to continue
rising, thus leading to a larger problem with the N.L.R.'s and
Sharps. Using an idea of C. Wright Mills that "the individual must
first find their own place in society in order to understand their
place in history," I have come to conclude that it's possible the
members in the Antelope Valley gangs identify ! themselves through
their subculture. Subcultures define several of the individual values
and beliefs of its members they are led to understand that their place
in society is serving their "gang" and their place in history is in
accomplishing the goal of that gang (Ferguson 1996). All through time
people have used symbols to express themselves and communicate (Charon
1998). The N.L.R.'s and Sharps use tatoo's, hair style, labels, slang,
objects, actions, clothing, body language and much more to express
themselves (Reader 1998). Another macro reason teens might choose to
join one of these gangs is, because at this age people often feel the
need to identify with something. The kids of the Antelope Valley may
have many reasons for choosing to identify themselves through one of
these gangs. Their reasons may include: security, friends, boredom,
fun, to have somewhere to go after school, or maybe because some felt
they weren't excelling in academics, sports or anything else.
According to Finnegan, Mindy Turner and other gang members soon
realized that they were trapped in the gangs, making it hard to
escape. Mindy first joined the Nazi Low Riders when she was in her
teens, then soon realized that she better identified with the Sharps,
so she left t! he N.L.R.'s to become a Sharp. In doing so, Mindy was
not accepted completely by either gang and she was labeled a "race
traitor" (Reader 1998). With acceptance playing such a huge role in
every human life, especially that of children, it is difficult for most
gang members to do what Mindy did. Acceptance isn't the only thing
that threatens the gang members and "traps" them in the gang, though.
Other factors are the threat of force, social stigma and desire to
conform. We are able to see the entire process that these teens seem
to be going through, with Charon's theory that, "humans interact and
develop a shared perspective, leading them to use that perspective in
situations, such as, to interpret their experience and what they are
taught" (1998, p.103). The lack of education and absent parents seems
to lead the children to each other for answers. The N.L.R.'s seem to
use what they learn from each other when they see people of another
race walking the street. They might decide to beat up the person
possibly in an attempt to drive him or her away. Then with the out
come of their actions they are able to interpret, well or not, what
they have learned from each other and their experiences. Fighting with
and hurting others is common in many gangs. It sometimes ends in the
death of one or more people. Finnegan's essay describes a situation
where a member of each of the two gangs fought and one teen ended up
dying. The boy who lived was never put in jail for murder. Finnegan's
description of the situation made it appear that a lot of the non-gang
members in the valley shared the view that it's just another skinhead
off the street (Reader 1998). In Donna Gaines essay "Teenage
Wasteland" she writes about the history and biography of teens who have
committed suicide. In her essay some people described the suicide
victims as "burn-out's" and seemed fine with the fact that they killed
themselves (Furguson 1996). This also appeared to be how the gang
fight death was dealt with. Few people showed interest in the
skinheads' death or in prosecuting his killer. Ending the Skinhead
culture and keeping kids in school would be a difficult and nearly
impossible proce! ss. By identifying the chief sociological causes,
however, one might be able to make an attempt to change some of the
economic, scholastic and family issues in order to generate a positive
difference and slow the dropout rate as well as the numbers of
Skinheads in the area.


Charon, Joel M. (1998). Ten Questions. Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Ferguson, Susan J. (1996). Mapping the Social Landscape. Mountain View, CA:
Finnegan, William. (December 1, 1997). The Unwanted. The New Yorker.
pp. 60-78
Mills, C. Wright. (1983) "The Promise" Oxford University Press, Inc.

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