Violent attacks against subcultures like punks and goths are now being considered as hate crimes by the Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
What was once only the territory of politically-established social minorities (so race, religion, disability, sexuality or transgender identity) is now broadened to alternative music scenes and subcultures – at least by the GMP.
The plan to record attacks in this manner was sparked by the murder of Sophie Lancaster back in 2007. The 20-year-old goth was attacked in a park in Lancashire along with her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, simply because of their style of dress. While the boyfriend managed to survive, Ms Lancaster was not as lucky.
Because this attack was motivated by judgements about the victims’ identities, a pretty strong parallel can be drawn between attacks of this nature and existing hate crimes.
You could replace these goths with queer people or people of colour, and I could most likely find an existing news report to match. Hell, in March last year there were reports of emos in Iraq being murdered by militia, partially because the subculture is heavily associated with homosexuality there.
The crux of attacks like these is ignorant fear of identities that differ from the ‘norm’. Why the scare quotes? Because in Western culture, to be anything other than a straight white man with a taste in Top 40s pop is an ‘other’, someone to be changed or removed. It’s an awful way to think of things, really. That demographic may not be the most prevalent in terms of numbers, but social dominance counts for so much more than manpower.
Society has progressed just enough to cut some minorities some slack. You’re allowed to be, for example, black in a public place in much of the world without pulling much ire (Though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way).
But often, our identity as minorities is displayed in ways that aren’t physiological. There’s nothing in terms of body type that separates straight men from gay ones, but there’s a laundry list of ‘coded behaviour’ that society decides is indicative of being gay, or religious, or yes – belonging to a subculture.
What raises the hackles of violent bigots is that people who differ from the ‘norm’ have the temerity to express themselves openly, and think that beating them will change that in some way. That seems very much like hate crime to me.
Most notably, there are some subcultures that are heavily involved in socio-political struggles. Punk as a movement revolves around being non-conformist, and as such features heavy streaks of anti-racist and anti-sexist ideologies.
The emo scene, while considered rather male dominated, embraces emotional openness (hence the name) and androgynous fashions, making it a social safe haven for many queer teenagers.
The workings and intricacies of subcultures is just as fascinating to me as learning about feminism, racial history and queer theory, and deserves to be respected in a similar manner. For a glimpse of just how vastly different subcultures can be, take a look at Urban Tribes. Hours will fly by.
The official consideration of subcultures as being part of the hate crime demographic is a while off – England’s courts cannot recognise its legitimacy, and the GMP are the only police force that are recording it.
But all is not lost. By bringing the idea up as a point to be seriously considered, the public are also forced to think of those who are part of alternative scenes as people, not targets.
What this news hopefully won’t do is get people arguing over which minority has it worse, and flinging mud at whatever groups might have it easier. These kinds of ‘Oppression Olympics’ aren’t helpful to discussion; those who try to start them require immediate defenestration.
Note: Simon Price’s entry on The Guardian’s Comment is Free gives a great break down on different subcultures, as well as detailing his own experiences of being targeted.