“Gingerism”: it’s time we end this hurtful and childish abuse

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This article contains mentions of suicide.

“Gingerism”, to put it plainly, is bullying. By definition, it is a derogatory term associated with the mistreatment, be it physically or verbally, of people with red hair. In a society that is adopting a more auspicious and inclusive attitude towards all people and attempting to break down barriers of prejudice long perpetuated, it seems strange that “gingerism” should slip through the cracks of this cultural revolution and be forgotten. Is it not also a form of discrimination? Is it not also a means by which people can undermine the wellbeing and happiness of others? As a red head myself, I can certainly verify that “gingerism” is not pleasant to experience, nor is it a rare vice in our society.

Although it must be acknowledged that other social and minority groups have experienced far more distressing and severe persecution based upon their ethnicity, religion, sexuality and/or race; this does not mean that “gingerism” should be rendered fictional, nor should it mitigate the damaging physical and psychological effects which “gingerism” can have on its victims.

I was inspired to write this, having chanced across an article in The Telegraph which highlighted the effects that sustained “gingerism” can have on people. What truly struck me was the fact that most of the victims referred to in the article were teenagers – young people whose early lives had been ruined by the cruel taunting of others. Reading about tragedies such as a boy and a girl, both 15 years old, who committed suicide after being bullied for their hair colour, whilst another child was abused by his parents who perceived his ginger hair as being the “sign of the devil”, disturbed and saddened me greatly. On further research, I discovered other serious cases of “gingerism”, such as that of the Chapman family from Newcastle, who, in 2007, suffered the wrath of a gang who, for three years, regularly verbally abused the whole family and vandalised their home. Furthermore, in 2003, a 20-year old was stabbed in the back in an act of hate crime motivated by the fact that they were red headed.

There have been occasions where celebrities have been accused of “gingerism”: Katie Hopkins remarked in 2013 that ginger babies “are much harder to love” whilst the then Deputy Labour Leader, Harriet Harman, in 2010, insulted the Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander by calling him a “ginger rodent”. Even Prince Harry admitted that he was bullied whilst in the army and taunted by the nickname ‘Ginger Bullet Magnet’ back in 2007.

Hair colour is still a major form of prejudice

It is a paradox, frankly, that this evident form of discrimination against the hair pigmentation of a minority group, consisting of less than 2% of the world’s population, should be so casually flaunted in such a visible manner. Colour is still a major form of prejudice in society: it is cruel and merciless and should be stopped and replaced by toleration and respect. We are all human beings with unique features after all, and no-one should be punished, let alone feel compelled to commit suicide, because of their phenotype.

What attempts have been made to dispel “gingerism”? In 2013, a Ginger Pride march took place in Edinburgh as a united and symbolic act against bullies, as well as an opportunity for people to congregate and celebrate their shades of red. Meanwhile in 2021, there were a vast array of red head appreciation events scheduled to take place across the globe, from New York and Milan to Brittany and London. Services and websites such as Childline, Counselling Directory and Direct Gov are also available to offer advice and support for those who have experienced physical, verbal and/or psychological abuse.

We red heads should embrace our wonderful hair colour with pride – the rare nature of the pigment makes it a particularly valuable gift and one which should be cherished and displayed. Red hair, from a more optimistic historical viewpoint, has also been associated with bravery, loyalty and fortitude.

Indeed, there are a plethora of examples of both fictional and non-fictional figures who are known for these characteristics, from Boudicca and Elizabeth I, to Ron Weasley and Tintin. Always be kind to yourself and others, do not tolerate abuse and, above all else, be proud of your identity and embrace the characteristics that define you, because that is what makes you a unique individual.

Image: Kalisa Veer via Unsplash

One thought on ““Gingerism”: it’s time we end this hurtful and childish abuse

  • Brilliant article 👏 as I myself am a red-haired male who has suffered years of Discrimination and abuse.

    Reply

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