I'm a redhead and don't go out on St Patrick's Day because people kiss me and touch my hair. They think it's funny but it's not OK.
- I've been called all sorts of names and had strangers touch my red hair.
- I'm not alone — many redheaded celebrities have spoken out about how they've been treated.
In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, Prince Harry said he was surprised to have two redheaded children.
"The ginger gene is a strong one," he joked. He gave a fist pump and said, "Go gingers." A lone voice from the audience whooped — along with me, sitting on my sofa at home.
While redheads are not going extinct, people with naturally red hair are thought to make up only roughly 2% of the world's population. Seeing a natural redhead in the wild or even on a book cover gives me a warm feeling because of our rarity.
I'm not alone in my sentiment. Julianne Moore was once asked if she felt a kinship with other redheads. "I do!" she said. "Whenever I see one on the street, I nod or say hello. I feel like there's a redhead collective — you notice each other."
Perhaps because of this kinship, I've always had natural-redhead friends. Some had curly hair, others straight. Some had bright hair, others dull. At a young age I befriended a redhead from Mexico; I hadn't known at the time that natural red hair isn't bound by white skin or European ancestry.
People treat us differently
Besides the obvious strands on our heads, one thing that binds us together is how non-redheads treat us. Other people at school called my friend from Mexico "Rooster." He started to wear a hat to cover his head — something I've noticed other redheads do when they're named-called — but teachers made him take the hat off.
I've been called carrot top, pumpkin head, fire crotch, daywalker, and many other things. Sometimes these nicknames were just playful teases from close friends, but other times they were lobbed like little verbal grenades, landing at my feet and disrupting my life.
Redheads can feel a particular social pressure because of the way people treat us. Prince Harry wrote of one named Marko whom he described as "an extreme ginger" who "owned it." I was perhaps more like Marko than Harry in my younger years: I stood out, I knew that, and I used it to my advantage to make people laugh. I found that if I played the clown, my hair became somewhat of a superpower, even if it invited comparisons to Conan O'Brien.
Both regular and famous redheads are made to feel less than
Despite red hair's popularity as a character trait and its trendiness, redheaded children are often targeted. Redheads on TikTok have recounted being humiliated and harassed, and celebrities like Moore have spoken out about their difficulties growing up with red hair.
Madelaine Petsch said in an interview in 2017: "I was bullied a lot for having red hair. It really affected me in the beginning because I was the only kid, especially first through sixth grade, who was really mercilessly bullied, and I never really understood why."
The most recognizable celebrity ginger of the day is usually turned into an insult. When I was growing up, people regularly called me Ron Weasley and Clay Aiken. Today young boys are being called Ed Sheeran. Sheeran, for his part, once said a "South Park" episode making fun of redheads "fucking ruined my life." He said that while he was used to being ridiculed in England for his hair, he thought the episode contributed to gingerism in the United States.
The issue of gingerism
Gingerism, or bias or discrimination against people with natural red hair, is a familiar term for Brits but not necessarily for Americans. With the popularity of red hair, I think it's time that it be introduced more broadly into our vernacular.
The issue of gingerism received new attention a few months ago when Jessica Gagen became the first redheaded Miss England. She's said she was spat on and burned because of her hair, but she's become an outspoken advocate and role model for redheaded kids while pursuing a master's degree in aerospace engineering.
These kinds of experiences bind many gingers together — but they don't just stop once someone grows up. Two years ago, while I was waiting for a bus, a stranger walked up from behind and rubbed my hair, leaving me stunned and, later, with a neckache. It was shocking, but it wasn't the first time someone had touched me without permission. Other strangers have randomly stroked my beard, and I've been grossly kissed so often on St. Patrick's Day that I no longer leave the house for the holiday.
Redheads have to endure the stereotyping and harassment because there's no real concerted effort to stop it. When I was a teenager, someone I tried to date was barred from seeing me because their parents believed, as a rule, that redheads were prone to abuse and alcohol misuse. Another parent believed that red hair was the mark of the devil. Some of these myths stretch far back into ancient history.
It's heartening when celebrities speak up about their experiences and encourage redheaded children who may have no one else they can relate to. It's time for gingerism to receive the kind of attention in the US that it gets abroad.
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