Chrissy Meleady MBE, CEO of Equalities and Human Rights UK, which is based in Sheffield, said discrimination against people born with red hair has occurred for thousands of years and in many countries, and it has been described as ‘particularly acute’ in the UK.
She said despite the phenotypical characteristic of having red hair and being subject to prejudice, discrimination and at times hate for having red hair, those with red hair are not given protection for their red hair as a protected characteristic.
It was reported last week that a teaching assistant from St Wilfrid’s Primary School in Millhouses was dismissed from his job which he held since 2008 after a series of complaints made against him, including ‘humiliating’ a young vulnerable boy by giving him a girl’s name in class.
He had also made an internet search for ‘Gingerphobia’ when he was teaching a lesson about Viking, resulting a child in the class with red hair in being teased by his classmates and getting upset.
‘Not harmless banter’
She said: “Bullying red-haired people 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’ researchers say, due to the consequences and adverse impact of the bullying.
“Whilst it might be seen as a ‘laugh’ to belittle, demean and abuse these children for being red haired or their phenotyical characteristic, it can be very harmful stripping these children of their positive self-identity and confidence and worse it can lead to school refusal, health problems, self-injurious behaviour and even children wanting and trying to die by suicide.”
She said she personally has had to deal with a family physically abusing their baby for having red hair as they equated her red hair as being the ‘mark of the devil’ and a family wanting to adopt and saying they would not accept a red haired child but would not mind their racial, social or sexual backgrounds.
“I’ve had to deal more recently with a family physically abusing their baby for having red hair as they equated her red hair as being the ‘mark of the devil’ and in the not too distant past a family wanting to adopt and saying they would accept any child of any race, social background, nationality, sexual orientation, diverse genders, disabled but that they ’could not abide a red haired child’.
“Another case has been a red haired girl thrown down a flight of stairs by a group of other girls for having red hair, and had a brick smashed into her head too.
“There needs to be more done to protect red haired children, not just from gingerism or anti-red haired prejudice and abuse from other children, but from school and other settings members who model the bullying and abuses to red haired children.”