In the film This is England, Shaun is a little boy who falls in with a group of skinheads. This happens for a variety of reasons, but ultimately it comes down to his desperation to feel love and acceptance; to feel like he is a part of a group. Shaun’s father died in war leaving his mother to raise him on her own. She is obviously trying her best to cope with the loss of her partner, but she is missing signs that her son is having trouble with peers and looking for a guidance. Enter Woody and a group of skinheads. They shave Shaun’s head and explain to him what he needs to wear to be a part of their subculture. Shaun’s mother is angry that his head is shaved without her permission (after all, he is just a young boy), but after confronting the group over this, she leaves her son with them again.
This acceptance and belonging seems innocent enough at first, but leads to Shaun being involved with threatening people and “paki-bashing”. This young boy, who at the start of the film simply looked for friendship and love, has graduated to participation and (mostly) acceptance of violent crimes.
Perhaps something similar can be said for Mohammad Hussein-Ishmael, Mo, a Muslim and Pakistani butcher is White Teeth. Mo decided to join KEVIN (Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation) in an effort to belong to a group after he spent years as a victim: “The second reason for Mo’s conversion was more personal. Violence. Violence and theft … he had been a victim of serious physical attacks and robbery, without fail, three times a year” (391). Mo had spent years being marginalized and assaulted and wanted acceptance and action. Certainly, the type of community that Shaun and Mo were looking for are very different, but at their core, I think that both wanted to belong and feel accepted.
My final thought when connecting these two pieces is the circle that they could be involved with. If this book and film existed in the same literary universe, I think it’s possible that the characters would be in a violent circle of hatred and longing for acceptance.
English citizens fear immigrants ⇒ subset of citizens join skinheads ⇒ skinheads feel marginalized ⇒ violence and “paki-bashing” ⇒ Mo is assaulted repeatedly ⇒ Mo joins KEVIN ⇒ KEVIN commits terrorist acts ⇒ English citizens fear immigrants
In reality, we’re experiencing a lot of this in American today. I think that we can break through this cycle by recognizing it, calling attention to it, and making an effort to get off the ride.
Smith, Zadie. White Teeth. Vintage International Books, 2001.
This is England. Directed by Shane Meadows. Warp Films Limited, 2006.