Every so often my Facebook newsfeed alerts of me of some obscure yet popular holiday relating to “gingers,” a word that has become an anything but endearing nickname for redheads like yours truly. Mark your calendars because later this month on October 20th is National Kick a Ginger Day. For some Mendelian genetic reason that has riddled my family for years, I am the only person out of two parents, three sisters, four grandparents, seven aunts and uncles, and twenty-five first cousins who has red hair. When I was little, I thought it was cool and unique; I had something few others did, and my hairdressers always complemented it. But, as I grew into my awkward tween self, I started to notice a bizarre and sometimes extreme animosity towards myself and other members of my ginger tribe, an animosity that soon infiltrated even my own opinions. Luckily, I can safely say I now no longer feel that way about my auburn locks, even if others do. But this article isn’t about me and my status as a hair color minority. As a Sociology major, I am both fascinated by and perplexed as to where this seemingly irrational hatred stems from. What exactly is it about the ginger race that sparks such spiteful sentiments?
In 2005 South Park aired an episode titled “Ginger Kids” in which the main character Cartman warns his fellow classmates of a ginger plot to create a master race of evil, soulless ginger people. Later, the television show made a direct parody of a serious yet comically ridiculous YouTube video where a male redheaded teenager named CopperCab retaliates against both South Park and the chronic abuse he receives for his hair color. The episodes and the video, which has over 34 million views, represent a peak in media attention that almost definitely led to widespread ridicule and stigmatization of the “ginger” condition among American youths, in which redheads are seen as soulless, heinous beings. In fact, I’ve often noticed that people like to use the term ginger synonymously with the word ugly. If someone has red hair and he or she is unattractive, just say the person is a ginger using a somewhat degrading tone -- and boom! Your audience will without a doubt pick up on the fact that this individual lacks not only a soul but also any redeeming attractive features. Whenever I am personally in the midst of people who have used the term “ginger,” they usually get awkward or stare at their cuticles before justifying the claim with something like “oh no, but not like you;” or, “don’t worry you’re not a real ginger.” While I most sincerely appreciate their sensitivity to my condition, this to me is evidence enough that the term itself encompasses much more than a mere description of hair color. People are careful to call me a ginger even though I am one; no one is ever careful to call people blonde or brunette. The fact is that red hair is generally associated with such negative physical and personal attributes that people are wary of insulting me simply by using the term to describe it.
But fear and loathing of gingerness have origins that far precede 2005 and South Park’s coining of the term. In medieval Europe, redhead children were seen as bearing the mark of the devil, or having been conceived while their mothers were menstruating. In the United Kingdom, specifically, redheads were seen as descendants of the Celts and thus contained violent, uncivilized genes. The ancient Greeks believed redheads became vampires after death. The Spanish thought redheads had stolen the fire of hell (which was apparently a pretty nasty crime at the time), and were burned during the Inquisition. Old Russian proverbs assert that red hair comes with craziness and a fiery temper. The Nazis nearly forbid redheads from marrying for fear of their degenerate offspring. As a redheaded Jew, I would not have faired well in early 20th Century Europe
Evidently, this bizarre phenomenon is nothing new and does not have much of a rational basis, unless of course you see stealing the fire of hell as an adequate reason to immolate someone. In no way would I say that this stigma has been particularly detrimental to me in my life, nor has stood in the way of my goals. Discrimination against redheads is an infinitesimal blip on the scale of human prejudice. What I find truly fascinating is the mystery behind it all; like most hatred, when you sit down and really think about it, it seems pretty obscene. Why are some minority characteristics stigmatized and others are not? Some people have green eyes, but I see no notifications for National Spit on a Green-eyed Person Day popping up in my newsfeed. Word on the street is that the red hair gene is slowly dying out. While I’m not about to make it my mission to repopulate the earth, I do hope that this is not the case. In the off-chance that one of my future spawn has red hair, I hope that he or she will not be bullied because of it. and will instead embrace it. In the words of CopperCab, “Really, what is so friggin different tell me? Cause I don’t really see much of a difference…I’m red headed and I’m proud of it… so don’t friggin be like that, okay!” The kid spoke the truth.