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The Kids Are All White

Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink StoryAutobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story by Frank Meeink

Reviewed by Gerry Donaghy
Powells.com

When Frank Meeink first watched the film A Clockwork Orange, he wondered, "Do people really do that kind of psycho shit?" It wouldn't take him long to find out. By the time he was 14 years old, Meeink, the product of a broken South Philadelphia upbringing, was the alpha dog of a growing neo-Nazi skinhead brigade called the Terror Squad. By the age of 17, he was doing hard time on kidnapping and assault charges.

In Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, Meeink recounts his life in horrendously lucid detail, and it reads like a recipe for disaster. Take a child raised in near-squalor, mix in parental apathy, low self-esteem, a culture where violence is the only solution, top it off with a dogma that rationalizes every negative impulse imaginable, and you get an ideological thug, bent on destruction in the name of racial purity.

While I've never been victim to such violence, I've witnessed some of it firsthand. Like Frank Meeink, I lived in Philadelphia most of life, and I'm only a few years older than the author. While I can say I grew up there, I really grew up in Northeast Philly, which is about as close to South Philly culturally and ethnically as Beverly Hills is to Compton. However, I spent a lot of time on South Street, near where Meeink held court at Skinhead Alley. Every once in a while, popping out of the Philadelphia Record Exchange or Jim's Steaks, my friends and I would see small, roving packs of skinheads who simply radiated hatred. Generally, if you steered clear of them (and you were white), you didn't have any problems. I'm sure it helped that there was always a large police presence in that neighborhood.

Often, I would go to see shows at a club called Trenton City Gardens, where skinhead violence was a regular occurrence. Once, while there, I watched as skinheads not only beat up a longhair (whose only crime was having the gall to wear a shirt bearing the logo of white-power band Screwdriver), but eventually assaulted the headlining band, after they made the mistake of ridiculing the skinheads when they started throwing up Sieg Heil salutes. Eventually the club instituted a dress code barring Doc Marten boots and suspenders, which toned down the violence, but never really eliminated it.

The violence that Meeink describes in this book is beyond anything I've ever witnessed, and is related in sickening detail that is not for the squeamish. Bare fists, Orangina bottles, and tackhammers are the weapons that Meeink and his cohorts use to wage a race war. Even more troubling is when the author describes just how easy it is to lure new followers to the cause.

All I did was befriend kids who were pissed off about being picked on day in and day out. I trusted them to pay me back with loyalty. I trusted that I could turn their humiliation into hate. All I had to do was redirect their rage until it came thundering back as racism.

As Meeink grows up (literally and figuratively), he begins to peel away from his racist compatriots. At one point he realizes that despite all of his hatred towards them, he's never actually met a Jew, until he later gets a job working for one. While he's incarcerated, the groups most accepting of him aren't fellow bigots, but rather the African Americans and the Puerto Ricans.

Filling the void left by the absence of racist dogma is a torrent of drugs and alcohol. This phase of Meeink's life, while not as compelling as his younger years as a skinhead, deftly illustrates how addiction gets a hold of somebody and gives the perverse illusion of wholeness. Whether it's addiction to chemicals or the adrenalin that comes from hate and violence, I don't think it's an accident that the author refers to himself as a recovering skinhead in the title. Just as a substance abuser can never be cured of their addiction, it's as probable that a person can never truly be cured of racism.

This book is not an insider's look at the American Neo-Nazi movement, nor is it an apology of somebody who failed to find God until his life was screwed up beyond hope. Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead is a harrowing and gripping tale of personal discovery, albeit one that came at the suffering of others. It behooves us as responsible citizens to gaze into Meeink's heart of darkness, and to do what we can to prevent future generations of little Hitlers. The life we save may be our own.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Autobiography of a Recovering... Used Trade Paper $7.95



3 Responses to "The Kids Are All White"

  1.  
    Dave Martin April 17th, 2010 at 12:13 am

    Orangina bottles? I thought the French orange soda was an extreme niche product, something you see at supermarkets frequented by affluent retirees from New York.

    A decade ago, Powell Blvd in inner SE Portland had homicides near a theater, bars, fast food places. Not many--it was a comparatively safe place, but at night I took the Holgate bus.

    I never got to know South Philly, apart from kids from there who were studying hard in college in hopes of going on to something better.

  2.  
    s h a r o n April 17th, 2010 at 9:56 am

    "It behooves us as responsible citizens to gaze into Meeink's heart of darkness, and to do what we can to prevent future generations of little Hitlers. The life we save may be our own."

    Fine, Gerry. What would you suggest "we" "do"?

  3.  
    donaghy April 22nd, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Isn’t there some rule about countering a rhetorical statement with a rhetorical question?

    However, if the question is posed with sincerity, I would propose that what the book suggests first and foremost is that the skinheads who mentored Meeink were able to fill the void created by the derelict parents and negligent institutions that failed him as a child.

    Organized racists tend to follow the same mentality as religions, fast-food chains and the tobacco industry: get them while they’re young.

    I’m not naïve enough to suggest what should be done about indoctrinated adults. What I was trying to suggest was that by understanding that these movements require fresh recruits to endure, parents, educators and communities should learn from the author’s experiences and live up to their responsibilities. It's not a solution, but it would be a good start towards thining the herd of future racists.

    And Dave-when I lived in Philly, the only places you could find Orangina were health food stores. Leave it to this crowd to overlook the snob appeal of a beverage when it delivers such a useful bludgeoning tool.

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