I was born with light red hair. Back in the day it was called strawberry blonde which I never really understood, because strawberries are actually really red! Sometimes and more ostentatiously I was a Titian blonde. Apart from the odd building site worker yelling “Hey ginge” from time to time, I was never subjected to any sort of name calling, teasing or harassment that many redheads are now subjected to. In fact, it was generally a source of affectionate banter. So why do some people now think that redheads need to be a protected minority?
Old wives tales
Like all the old wives tales associated with this colouring, I am inclined to be a little hot-headed. I bleed profusely when cut and I am easily anesthetized. I break away from the curve as I have fewer freckles (angel’s kisses) than most redheads. Should I decide to grill myself like a vegetable on the beach, I could sport a sun tan, if I wanted one. I know I am a higher risk for skin cancer, so always wear a hat and factor 50 sunscreen. Over the years like most with my colouring, I haven’t gone grey, merely faded to a sort of sandy blonde. I counteract this with some assistance from my dear friend L’Oreal. To the best of my knowledge I have never turned into a vampire.
So I was surprised to learn that there is a growing move for redheads to become a “protected minority” as a result of the increased incidence of bullying and discrimination. This is not only in schools where only the quickest search will reveal horrendous incidents reported. A school teacher friend told me that red heads are on teacher’s bullying at risk watch list.
It is also been part of a comparable growth in workplace bullying, ranging from corporate settings to the NYPD. I found a plethora of web sites set up exclusively to report such incidents and to offer support to this minority.
The ginger gene
In 1995, Professor Jonathan Reese discovered that mutations of the gene MC1R on chromosome 16 were responsible for red hair (known as the “ginger gene”). The gene mutation responsible for red hair in humans probably arose 20,000-40,000 years ago. It occurs naturally on approximately 1–2% of the human population more frequently (2–6%) in people of northern or western European ancestry, and less frequently in other populations.
As with any minority, throughout history reactions have varied from admiration, suspicion to ridicule. Redheads were burnt at the stake in medieval England as witches. Aristotle was said to have called them “emotionally un-house broken” although that has never been substantiated. Across the globe, proverbs and warnings are centred around the negative aspects of unfortunate encounters with persons of red hair colouring.
Migration and red hair
A very small percentage of black people also have red hair. Dr. George Busby an expert from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics suggests that red hair trait may also have been transported by early migration in the 1600s and developed from historical interactions between Europeans and Africans in the Caribbean. Irish people were sent to the West Indies as indentured servants during that time period.
“This might also explain why you occasionally see red hair on a black Caribbean person who has two black parents. By chance alone, it might be that they are both carrying a European mutation which has come together in their child,”
But why in this day and age this sort of prejudice exists is a mystery. One explanation offered by a social historian contact, is that with all other sorts of blatant discrimination now outlawed or considered politically incorrect, (race, gender, physiology, sexual, nationality) the bullies amongst us have been left with few targets for their vicious invective.
It is yet another form of “othering.” Are redheads therefore becoming one of the last unprotected minorities?
Let’s find out!
Joel, 29, works in Sales Accounts for a U.K. based insurance company. He has very short hair which he keeps in a number 5 buzz cut. To you and me this is street speak for extremely short hair, but I suppose on trend with today’s fashion. It doesn’t seem out-of-place in the centre of business London. Joel’s hair colour is naturally what you and I would call chestnut, a rich brown. But when the sun shines on it some copper tints and glints are visible. Don’t people pay fortunes to have such highlights put into their hair I mused? Not Joel. He cuts his hair every two weeks. Why? “To avoid teasing and bullying. I got sick of the comments and I also worried that my hair colour would be an issue for promotion”
I should add that Joel is over six-foot and a rugby player, built like a tank, so unlikely to be physically abused, but clearly took to heart the verbal jibes. This is in stark contrast to Alex Kosuth-Phillips who was attacked and his jaw broken in Birmingham, U.K. simply because of the colour of his hair.
However, this is not a British phenomenon, although with the nature of the gene it is more likely to be found in certain ethnic groups and therefore geographies. Incidents are widely reported in Canada, Ireland, Australia and anywhere Northern Europeans are based, or have migrated to.
It is almost impossible to believe that the U.S. has a “Kick a Ginger Day” a follow-up from the T.V. show South Park.
But they do.
Marilyn, a Washington based lawyer with Irish heritage, spends over $100 every month colouring her naturally red locks, brunette. “This is not because of anything that has happened in the workplace, but because of the trauma of growing up with red hair and the scars it has left from bullying in school.”
On a more positive note according to a Clairol Color Attitude survey, with 71% of redheads saying they feel the word “bold” describes them, 24 points ahead of blondes; 80% say they are self-confident, 25 points ahead of blondes. We also have a head start in the health stakes survival game surviving many debilitating illnesses it would seem at a better rate! Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but redheads have more sex, or at least they do in Germany. Some of the most prominent literary figures and leaders in history from Mark Twain, Cleopatra, Cromwell, Vivaldi, Van Gogh and George Washington were all redheads.
This is an update nearly a decade later. I still get regular comments and messages in response to this post. Many commentators recount horrific tales of abuse and bullying which linger into their adult lives.
My grand daughter is a redhead. And honestly is anyone does anything to hurt her – they will have me to contend with!
So do redheads need to be a protected minority or should they dare to be different?
What do you think?
If you wish to eradicate bullying and harassment from your organisation get in touch NOW!
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My view is that “gingerism” = anti-redhead activities are based on anti-Celtic attitudes, as redheads are perceived to be of Celtic ancestry.
Me as a red head or a ginger boy if you will, have been “Made fun of.”, in a sense but I do believe we may need protection. I mean after all we are a smaller minority then the ones in public outcry like black people, or “People of color.”, I’m the one being called “White boy.” In a derogatory sense. So for all that yes I do feel we need to be protected just like people of color we are preety much the smallest minority in the world after all!
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I don’t believe that redheads are any more of a minority than NATURAL blondes are. Speaking of which, aren’t BLONDES the ones who get stereotyped as “dumb airheads” and “bimbos” all the time? . .. they were last time I was aware.
Good point about natural blondes! I’m not sure if they are physically bullied simply because of their hair colour. Take the poll!
I always believed that because I had red hair, I was singled out. Although, the redheaded boys got bullied worse than I did, my brother especially. I felt so different that I sought out the only black girl in my class because she understood what I was going through. I was teased for having skin one could see through. I was chastised by the girls for not being able to tan. I was picked on for fights because who would defend me? I was beaten senseless many times for my appearance. I was told by two different blind dates that they really didn’t like redheads because of our temperament, so sorry I can’t date you. When it came down to not being placed in the groups of minorities for college scholarships I was rather offended. I was poor and could have used the money. Was I not the most rare and picked on of the people in my school? We are ostracized and bullied for our lack of color and stereotyped. It is sad because I love all people regardless of appearance,culture, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, etc. I wish people would feel the same way about us.
I was thankful my son was not born a redhead because he is not going through the same torture I did when I was younger. Now that I am older, I have accepted the fact that I am different and embrace it. I did not feel the same way when I was a child, battered and laying on the sidewalk wishing someone, anyone would understand me. How can you explain it to a child?
Terry – I’m really sorry to hear that. I have heard from many sources that yours is not an uncommon experience.
At nearly 60 yrs now, my hair now white, thank heaven, I experienced all the atrocities described here. I often wondered why I was so different than others from an early age. While so many classes have become protected, including baseball team names, I witnessed Black people finally gaining their rights, women recognized for their ability, gay and lesbians get their rights, native Americans, too. We however have suffered the slings and arrows of society without even a bit of sympathy. We did not ask to be born this way but often are left out of promotions or other societal perks, or at best offered a tag along option. Even here one commentto says we should man up and take the abuse. Brother let me tell you that maybe you need to have your tail kicked on a regular basis just to toughen you up the way we had to do. That alone is evidence of the discriminatory attitude and behavior we had tolerated.
The fact that this person went to multiple “red head minority” blogs and posted his exact same comment, just goes to prove that people go out of there way to antagonize and belittle the Red Head. And yes, the name that I have used here is the name that I was called all throughout my childhood. I would be picked out of class full of kids as by the teachers saying I was the one acting out, or being loud, or misbehaving of any sort, and typically it had nothing to do with me. Constantly bullied and called derogatory names. Even now, at my job in a local municipality, I’m called derogatory names that I can’t even type here. Hispanics make us 17.7% of the U.S. population, African Americans make up 13.2%, Asaisn make up 5.6 percent, meanwhile, Red heads may up less than 2% of the entire US population! TWO PERCENT!!!! We are the largest unrecognized minority in the world!
I’m sorry to hear your problems – it has become more common than certainly I personally ever experienced.
Great article and Same, i was viciously bullied by a teacher and singled out all the time by kids/adults, used to be blond but now i embrace my colour and while everyone my own age is going grey, im not! thats my little bit of revenge! my hair colour is actually quite gorgeous, deep dark red and wavy, get stopped by kind strangers sometimes just to compliment me, have a chat about my hair, really are some red head lovers out there!
Here is an infographic on redheads -interesting! http://themetapicture.com/its-a-tough-world-out-there-for-gingers/
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I was the only redhead in my school and was jumped on, verbally lashed, picked @, ect…
Even by family
Had zero help from ANY adult or anything that resembled a human.
Although it is not as bad as when I was a child I am 44 years old and it still continues. I was a very quiet gentle person and it effected me greatly. Redheads fly solo there entire life typically and are not connected directly to their like individuals via a community. They are a huge minority and are in my case treated quite poorly, which makes me quite sad as I have a beautiful toddler young boy.
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Hm… I’m kind of in the middle? I was bullied in school and some of this was directed at my hair colour, and I believe that bullying for any reason is awful and should be dealt with…
But at the same time, I’m also a gay woman. And I certainly feel more singled out for that than I have for my hair. I think what red-headed people face isn’t as major as other minorities? In the west, I doubt people are now killed solely for their hair colour, but people can certainly be killed for being a certain race, gender, or sexuality.
So in my opinion, we should have a bit more awareness, and always discourage bullying. But I think making redheads a protected minority is kind of unnecessary.
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It’s actually the other way round. Us redheads need much more anaesthetic than anyone else and we have a much lower pain threshold. Also, I grew up in the 80s and was bullied mercilessly at school over my hair! Had a horrendous time, so I don’t think it’s to do with what decade it is. I would say yes we should be seen as the persecuted minority that we are!!
I can’t say I’ve experienced what everyone else has here but I will say that I use it as a badge of honor. I’m proud to be a redhead. They may say i’m soulless. I use it. Watch out ya know. I might take your soul. (I’m not religious) But I grew up on a reservation and our plight is not like an American Indian. Not like Hispanic, or African. I do find it odd but I like to jokingly point out that we are one of the smallest minorities on this planet. And kick a redhead? Well you won’t want to do that to me as a product of Norwegian heritage. (American) Idk, but I find it pretty easy to hit criticism and bullying head on. A fiery brand. It’s all about character. Don’t give an inch and by that red head badge of honor I’m not challenged. And if I am, it’s the last time. But we are a minority. I like to point that out. Stay strong my fellow “gingers”. We’re a force.
Love that line -stay strong my fellow gingers! Thanks for your comment!
Where are you getting your genetic/bio data. Redheads (of which I am one, with white eyebrows and silver graying hair now at 40+ YO) are more sensitive to pain (greater number of nerve endings per sq/in) but much HARDER to anesthetize and we dont “bleed more when cut”. 20 year Paramedic/Firefighter/ER RN. Lotta bad info on what Redheads “are”.
Hi it does say “old wives tale” I can only recount my personal experience where I lost more blood than usual in child birth and other surgeries!
I won’t change my red hair even though its more Auburn but it’s still red but anyways I won’t change my hair even if I’m beaten for it I won’t give them what they want
Thanks Will – let’s hope it never comes to that. Pretty shocking that anyone has to deal with it.
Well reporting vandalism to my property to the police and told them that they have used racial slurs towards me and my children the officer swiftly told me that nobody sees you people as a minority. Yes let me say that again the police officer told us that nobody sees YOU PEOPLE as a minority so therefore it is completely okay to vandalize harass and threaten any redhead without any action being taken we need to start standing up for our rights
The person who implied being a natural blonde is just as rare and that should disqualify redheads from being classed as a repressed minority should educate themselves on the historic persecution and modern grievances that people born with red hair experience… I dont think blondes were ever burnt at the stake for their hair color… just to mention one example of the glaring difference. That being said, I dont know that we need to be classified as a protected minority right now but who knows what the future holds. I do wish Hollywood wouldn’t replace redheads with other minorities, it would be better to acknowledge and embrace all minorities than to replace an unprotected minority with a protected one just to keep the diversity police off your back.
We do get targeted more than most groups based purely on our hair colour and quite violently on occasions. As a police officer I have seen this although at 6ft1 and quite muscular not had physical attacks really directed at me but verbally that’s a different thing.
On the positive though we do have a lot of positive genetic traits that give us advantages over other groups. One possible more recent advantage could be our ability to procuce our own vitamin D especially if lack of it can be detrimental with Covid. I may be wrong as a whole but no gingers I know have had serious consequences from catching Covid.
Thanks Craig -that would be an added bonus!
I have two red heads, and they are constantly singled out, not always in a a negative way, but made to feel different. Red heads are a minority and should be protected too. Derogatory names affect them just like other minorities.
They also need extra anesthesia as it wears off very fast.
I love my red heads!
Hi Cindy – glad your red heads are embracing their glory!
Hi fellow red heads.
To hear that so many of you experienced similar abuse throughout your lives is saddening, especially given that this is the first place I have actually heard other red heads experiences of growing up as a ginger, because I simply do not know any other gingers! ( he sent- minority) I went to 6 different schools when I was younger, moving constantly due to bullying. And in my 6 moves I was always the only red head, I often wondered why I was different, what was wrong with me, why was there no one else like me.
I also suffered with scoliosis and was in a body brace for years and had spinal fusion at age 13. When I was in hospital I got serious infections and at one point I remember losing hope. I went on my phone and saw an email … it was an ebook from my bullies at school ( that had bullied me because of being ginger for years). The ebook was titled ‘ how to Kill yourself ‘ and the message wrote ‘ here, you should hurry up and kill yourself , get rid of you gingers’
I asked my mum to put a pillow over my face that night… ofcoirse she didn’t and I am so relieved of that. But when she went to school with the hundreds of messages from multiple people at my school bullying me due to being ginger.
They did nothing but make them send a message to say sorry.
Those boys tried to get me to kill myself, punched balls into my back when I was recovering from surgery back at school and cyber bullied me for months when i was in hospital.
What punishment did they receive?
I feel for other minorities who experience the same thing, however I will say that at this same school, somone in a younger year got expelled for saying the N word in a game of sports. Rightly so, as this is so awful and racist and the victim deserved for the bully to be removed.
But I ask you this…. Don’t we gingers deserve the same protection as that?
Thank you. And also, this was not meant to in any means takeaway the rightly placed protection for other minorities, simply for us gingers to have the same level of protection so that our children in the future born with red hair, will not have to face what many of us here have.
Anastasia – that is horrific -I am so sorry. I hope you have all the support you need. Good luck.
I was teased in school for my red hair – and bullied. Not as terribly as some others on this post. There was another red-headed girl in my class who was bullied more than I – I regret not defending her, but I was scared the abuse would be turned towards me. The bullying damaged her.
I also had many people tell me how beautiful my hair was – often complete strangers on the street – awkward! My sisters were blond and I want to be blond and freckle-free more than anything.
Now in my 50s my freckles have faded and my hair – mostly white – looks blond. Although genetically still a red-head, I miss being identified as such… because in the end I was proud to be different and unforgettable.
I am a 73 year old redhead who is told I look younger than my age. I always felt different as a child and wanted so much to have a more common hair color.
I relate to transgender kids, as my high school biology teacher refused to call me by my preferred, given name. He’d always call on me when no one else would answer. He didn’t have to remember my given name – he just called me “Reds” or Carrotop”. I was very shy. It was very hurtful. My biology was used to ridicule.
When I was in my early twenties! I met a guy and we later married. Before marrying, we talked about whether we wanted children. We agreed to adopt, as he had Type 1, Juvenile Diabetes. It’s genetic and he didn’t want to pass down. I was secretly relieved, not having to say I didn’t want biological kids because they might have red hair. We agreed to adopt, though after eight childless years of marriage, we divorced and remained friends.
As a senior, I now sort of wonder what experiences I’ve missed by not having had children. I didn’t want redheads because they might be picked on. It’s too late to turn the clock back – it’s a big regret of choosing not to have children.
As a now grandmother to a redhead, personally I would not have made a choice to not have children.
I am sad to think that an atmosphere of bullying was part of your decision making process.
I was singled out from K-12. Finally just tried to quit caring after 10th grade but it bothered me. Damaged me. Physically and mentally. I don’t like diving into the details as I have tears in my eyes already. I’m 30 years old. From 1997-2010, life was brutal with a few good moments. It wasn’t just kids, either. My mother and her friends used to tell me they hated my hair and my skin was disgustingly pale. they would put self tanner on me and back then it made you look orange and like you had bruises on your knees and elbows. So humiliating. I just wanted it to all be done and once mandatory education was over, I pretty much cut off most people. for people who say I shouldn’t have been protected are wrong. They did not live my life and walk in my shoes. I didn’t have any other “problems”. I just had red hair and could not tan.
I am sorry to hear your story. Your experiences must have had a profound impact on you. I hope you are able to get the support you need.