Seeing red over ginger bullying

 

Police in Canada are investigating attacks on children because of the colour of their hair after a campaign entitled 'National Kick a Ginger Day' was launched on Facebook, writes Brian O'Connell 

WHEREAS BLONDES may have more fun, redheads, it seems, have just pain and freckles to contend with.

For the past week, police in Canada have been investigating attacks on children with red hair, following a campaign run on Facebook entitled, "National Kick a Ginger Day". Over 5,000 individuals had signed up to the group before it was taken down. It is thought that the site took its cue from a recent episode of South Park, which referred to redheads as soulless and "born with a disease".

The Facebook page, which urged members to "get them steel toes ready" was set up by a 14-year-old Vancouver Island teenager, who marked November 20th as national kick a redhead day. A host of Facebook groups have sprung to the defence of redheads in the days since the attacks, including "Who Thinks Kick a Ginger Day is Stupid?", and the rather Pythonesque, "Kick a Person who Kicked a Ginger on Kick a Ginger Day, Day". Dozens of teenagers across Canada left messages on sites claiming to have been attacked, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are currently investigating the violence, which occurred, ironically enough, during the country's national bullying awareness week.

The controversy has once again raised the issue of "Gingerism", which can be defined as targeting people because of their red hair. In Ireland and the UK, we have a long tradition of Gingerism, stretching back generations, often fuelled by misrepresentations in common myth and folklore.

In recent times, one UK family was forced from their home in Newcastle because of attacks due to their hair colour, while in 2003, a 20-year-old was stabbed in the back, promoting calls for hair hate to be regarded in the same manner as racism.

Prof Diane Negra at the University of East Anglia feels the current upsurge in attacks on redheads is not uncommon at a time of economic tightening.

"Often during recession you have a pronounced rise in discriminatory crime, and this all strikes me as another manifestation of that trend," she says. "Red hair is an interesting one though, because it works in very different ways depending on what culture you're in. The way redheads are treated in the US, for instance, is very different to the way they might be treated in the UK or Ireland. In Britain, the attitude is very negative, in Ireland it is more mixed, while in the US it is a very positive thing right now to have red hair, and even has an erotic sexuality attached to it."

That assessment would seem to be borne out by a variety of US websites offering redhead merchandise, from laptop bags to trucker caps, with the motto, "I Love Irish Redheads" blazoned across the front. Browsing through personal websites, one posting asked, perhaps rhetorically, "Can you tame this fiery feisty Irish redhead?" The post drew a large number of responses, including one which read: "Honey, my greatest desire is to spend the rest of my life extinguishing the flame of passion in a genuine

redhead."

Redhead Paschal Cassidy, director of Imeall, TG4's new weekly arts show, says name-calling was very much part of school experience growing up in Co Roscommon, although he puts it down to juvenile antics as opposed to any heartfelt hatred.

"I was the only redhead in the class and some of the names included 'copper top', 'Duracell' and 'ginger nut'. It was more slagging than anything else and never overly nasty," says Cassidy.

Primary school teacher Aoife O'Donnell says kids can be very aware of hair colour from a young age. In her current class of 19, only two pupils have red hair, and while teachers are far more conscious of bullying and name calling, she thinks redheads still get a raw deal.

"I think name-calling because of hair colour is somehow seen as less harsh," she says. "The dictionary we use has evolved in other respects such as ethnic origins and so on, but that doesn't seem to be the case with redheads. The names I would have heard in my schooldays are the same ones being used presently."

Cassidy feels that changing demographics may also have a part to play in the treatment meted out to redheads. "I suppose it comes down to the simple fact that there's not a whole pile of us redheads left. I remember working in China and walking into a shopping centre and the whole place came to a standstill. They had never seen red hair before - that was probably my most unpleasant experience," he says.

Rather than dwell on his foxy locks, Cassidy (whose parents have brown and black hair) has come to see his ruby roots as something of an advantage. "Because we're an extinct breed, there's a uniqueness about it."