'Bullying red-haired people is one of the last socially accepted forms of prejudice"

According to the Scotland’s DNA project, only about 0.6 per cent of the world's population has red hair.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 8:54 am

Although the largest population of redheads are to be found in Scotland and Ireland, redheads originated in central Asia. Their colouring is due to a mutation in the MC1R gene.Discrimination against people with red hair is defined as prejudice, fear, rejection, and the dehumanisation of people with naturally red hair.

Such discrimination can take many forms, including using pejorative monikers for people with red hair, the most common one being the characterisation of them as being sub-human, even labelling them as vermin.

An example of this being that of the then Equalities Minister Harriet Harman calling an opposition MP ‘a ginger rodent’.

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Red haired people are still subject to discrimination

Hostility towards red haired people on occasion is also informed by the intent and desire to eradicate people with red hair.

Historically, having red hair has resulted in ritual violence, including human sacrifice. Early Egyptians are reported to have had ceremonies where they burned red-haired women alive.

When they weren't burning them alive, they were burying them alive as a sacrifice to the god Osiris. The assignment of supernatural characteristics, such as vampirism, to persons with red hair, was endemic.

In the Middle Ages the witch-hunting manual, Malleus Maleficarum, warned that red hair was a mark of a witch and its widely reported that Hitler banned the sanctified union of two redheads fearing that their children would become "deviant offspring.”

In France until recently, people with red hair were called ‘poil de Judas’, meaning “hair of Judas.”

Contemporary abuse of those with red hair continues unabated.

I have been required to intervene in cases of school students and educational staff bullying, belittling, harassing and demeaning children with red hair.

These vulnerable children were school refusing, losing confidence and being left frightened and distressed.

School staff on being challenged for the harm and discrimination they have perpetuated have sought to brush it off ‘as just a laugh’, reverting to victim blaming the children for ‘having a chip on their shoulders for being red haired.’ One teacher claimed in justification for his bullying of ‘ ginger children’ that ‘they’re not resilient enough because they’ll always be picked on throughout their lives for being ginger and need to toughen up.”

I’ve had to deal with a family physically abusing their baby for having red hair. They asserted as an excuse that her red hair was the ‘mark of the devil’. Another family wanting to adopt said that they would accept any child of any race, social background, nationality, sexual orientation, diverse genders or disability but that they ‘could not abide a red haired child.’

In another case, a red haired girl in a secondary school was thrown down a flight of stairs by a group of other girls for having red hair, and on a different occasion had a brick also smashed into her head for being red haired, leaving her traumatised and having to be relocated to another school.

The issue of discrimination was not taken seriously by the school or LA concerned either.

Other victims have wanted to die by suicide due to the abuses they have sustained and we’ve had a number of suicides related to the bullying of red-haired people, over the years, including that of 15-year-old Helena Farrell who took her own life because of the constant bullying she endured for her red hair.

On top of contending with harmful or discriminatory treatment towards them, persons with red hair also have "significant internal differences" to other humans beyond their hair colour which may sometimes justify concerted attention to specific requirements.

Studies have shown that people with red hair experience pain differently than others. According to the National Institutes of Health:

People with red hair respond differently to opioid pain medications. In 2002 a scientific study accurately concluded that redheads are more difficult to sedate than any other people often requiring up to 20 per cent more anaesthesia than others to prevent them from waking up during surgical procedures. Persons with red hair may also experience changes in temperature faster and with greater intensity than others. They are more at risk of melanoma. They are also significantly more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than persons without red hair. Women with red hair also have a higher prevalence of endometriosis.

Bullying and abusing red-haired people is particularly acute in the UK and is “one of the last socially accepted forms of prejudice against people for a trait they were born with”, researchers say.

It’s not “harmless banter” due to the consequences and adverse impact of the bullying and other abuses.

City and educational leaders need to include and protect red haired children in their equalities considerations, policies and procedures and stamp out staff and students targeting red haired children for abuse in Sheffield.