Why is gingerism so common in Britain?

From Telegraph blogs


Is gingerism the last acceptable prejudice?

The print paper today has a piece about anti-ginger bullying, following a horrific attack in Birmingham. I’m a borderline ginge, with pale skin and mousy hair but a red beard, when I grow one: but the subject interests me more because my elder girl has red hair.

So did my grandmother, although I never knew at the time as she dyed it a series of colours throughout her life (the last one a crazy streak of purple, I seem to remember). She was from Galway in the west of Ireland, which has one of the highest frequencies of red hair in the world. The mutation is found all over the human population, but more so in Europe, and is most common in the British Isles, where having low melanin levels (pale skin being associated with red hair) was not selected against.

Which makes it curious that in Britain and Ireland redheads are historically persecuted, although it’s far more of a disadvantage for boys: the prejudice may be due to pale being considered feminine and unmanly (“tall, pasty and handsome” is not a popular saying) and redheaded females are far more common than men in acting, modeling and in other areas where beauty is idealised.

Historically it may also be a hangover from anti-Semitism, red hair being associated with Jews, and also Judas (plenty of other Biblical figures have red hair, although the fairly common frequency of red hair and freckles may be due to Ashkenazi Jews having an estimated 40 per cent European ancestry. Or that the Irish are the lost 12th tribe of Israel. Whichever theory you find more attractive).

Another possibility is that humans have a preference for the average and find extremes less attractive: in my school there was some mild mockery of gingers by the other white kids, while dark-skinned black boys also got a hard time from lighter-skinned black kids (having said that, those may be two totally separate cultural preferences).

Or perhaps it stems from ancient Anglo-Saxon prejudice against Celts, red hair being more common among people from the rocky fringes of the British Isles and less so among the dominant invaders from the continent. I don’t know, but the phobia is unlikely to go away, seemingly deep-rooted in the British mindset.

Although Western civilisation needs new categories of thought-crime like a hole in the head, the idea of gingerphobia as a hate crime is probably no more absurd than many other categories. The impulses that make a seriously unpleasant individual attack a stranger for the colour of his hair are probably fairly similar to those that cause pathologically racist individuals to attack strangers, based on an aversion to someone different to them (mild and harmless in most, hateful in a minority). Likewise it would be not at all surprising if redheaded men suffered discrimination in certain areas, such as the workplace (short men certainly do, as do unattractive men and women).

Perhaps it’s time red hair was made a protected characteristic under Harriet Harman’s Equality Act, so that any talk of “ginger rodents”, or any office banter about freckles or sunlight or sun cream could be interpreted as a hate crime. Then, finally, I can win the most precious weapon in today’s political debate – the trusty shield of victimhood. And therefore make a handsome living writing 10,000 articles on why I’m a victim of prejudice, and perhaps a place on a new government board looking into the problem of gingerphobia, before retiring to a sunless island in the North Sea.

This article was published at Telegraph Blogs

What do you think?