A Different Hue of Blue by Diana Donaldson

As an industry professional and educator I have always been active in promoting diversity and inclusivity within the curriculum and the wider creative industries. The first of my student briefs is called ‘British Classics’. The question of Britishness is examined under various lenses. The autobiographical lens is one of the most interesting as it reveals sometimes challenging individual interpretations through authentic personal narratives.

Recently, when students presented me with somewhat colourful representations of iconic classic British Mod and Skinhead subcultures it demonstrated the problem with mainstream online and confirmation biased research – it lacks critical thinking. I used this as an opportunity to introduce students to more robust inclusive, independent enquiry by revisiting and re-examining a familiar British subculture to encourage a deeper investigation and authentic response to a movement that is widely documented and misunderstood in equal measure.

My approach began with style and a classic Mod artefact – the scooter.

I eventually found Steve. He shared old photos and gave first hand account of growing up at a particularly volatile time in London (during the height of the National Front activism ) in the 80’s as a young black Mod. This includes racist attacks, having the t-shirt ripped off his back by a neighbour who misunderstood the meaning, to the misconception that all mods and skinheads are racist. He was quick to point out many factions of skins and Mods scene found and maintain great friendships and commonalities amongst black people. The love of popular culture including music was a unifying force. I rode on the back of Steve’s yellow and white 1966 Lamberetta SX150 special.

When invited though a little nervous, I had no hesitation joining the thousand strong entourage of old school and modern day mods and skinheads on their scooters to the Cenotaph in Whitehall London for Remembrance 2016. The highly stylised customisation, colourful paraphernalia, multiple mirrors, lights and glorious shining chrome scooters adorned withTrojan, Northern Soul accessories other badges, stickers and poppies was a sight to behold. Brogue’s,Tassel Loafers, Penny Loafers and DM’s were polished to a high shine; coats, jackets and the ubiquitous ‘greens’, denim and Union Jacks  – no two outfits were the same. The attention to detail was extraordinary and journey to the Cenotaph, sensational. There’s a real sense of community.

I reflected upon the starting point of this particular adventure – misconceptions.

I grew up 5 mins from the National Front head quarters, so I knew and saw a far darker side of what skins in particular also represented. This journey highlights the importance of returning to the familiar; to question, respond to and reflect changing cultural landscapes.

Stereotypes are damaging because people believe them, the myth perpetuates and eventually presents as truth. As a double minority, the only female of colour and just one of the few women present – the mix could hardly be described as diverse. One could be forgiven for feeling threatened by the unspoken undertones and hyper masculine environment. However I felt at ease walking through the crowd, taking pictures and to my surprise, was invited to a future ride. I am willing to experience such things because of my upbringing and belief in practicing what I teach. I encourage my students to broaden their perspectives, interrogate diverse life experience and research with enhanced critical thinking.

The most memorable part of this day was when we all stood together in silence to show respect and honour soldiers diverse in race, social and economical backgrounds they stood together, died and continue to die for our liberty. In my estimation this has to be the ultimate embodiment and tribute to inclusivity.
Words by Diana Donaldson.