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I'd rather be dead than red in the head.

I grew up hating my flaming ginger hair, hearing such brilliant repartee as that above. Once I entered public school, I quickly learned it was the worst possible physical trait, the root of all evil, the spawn of satan. Redheads, in fact, have no souls.

Redheads were the high-price slaves (whoop!) because the Romans thought they brought good luck. Greeks thought they became vampires at death. Egyptians sacrificed them to appease the gods. Also, we are witches.

Let not the eye of a red-haired woman rest upon you.

Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde (mom of Oscar)

I mean, obviously that would be really bad.

I've written about hairism before. It's the malady many recognize, but no one cares about. No one demands reparations. No one offers scholarships. No one expects equal representation anywhere. (Where are the ginger corporate quotas?!!) If you try to bring it up, people tell you to step back and be still. It's not worth discussing. Plus you're dumb. If it's even real, it's not that big of a deal. Anyway, it was only a joke and you obviously have a fiery temper.

In one forum someone brought up the issue. A response was:

White people have it so tough sometimes.

Like I said, shut up and sit down or I'll pour relative privation all over your sorry privilege.

Last August an acquaintance of mine posted something on Facebook that struck a very personal chord. Something I have dealt with my entire life.

A friend (someone I know only on Facebook, but with whom every interaction I've seen has shown her to be thoughtful, fair, kind, and measured) posted an analogy. Until the end, she didn't explain it was an analogy. As the mother of an adopted black son, she wanted to help people understand some of their experiences in a way that, certainly, all fair-minded people would see as unquestionably problematic—because it was something that would never occur.

Here is what she wrote:

Imagine you have a red headed child. Now imagine that child is being targeted and bullied because of her red hair. Now imagine you go to a friend and share your frustration.

You: My girl feels unsafe and feels like people hate her, just because she has red hair.

Friend: My blonde kid has never felt that way. In fact, I have never felt that way as a brunette. Are you sure it's happening?

You: Yes. One person said that my red headed child is more likely to steal and be in a gang, therefore, she wouldn't hang out with my daughter. Others taunt her and shove her around.

Friend: Well, is she more likely to join a gang? Statically? I always trust statics. Here, let me throw out some other useless statics in place of hearing you out.

You: Can't you understand my kids is being discriminated against for her red hair and it hurts?

Friend: Look, I'm still annoyed that they casted that other red headed kid for the part of Annie- and they only did it because she has red hair, so the discrimination goes both ways.

You: I feel like she's always the one in trouble at school. I think her teacher just doesn't like her. She misses recess more than any other kid, it puts her on edge.

Friend: What does she do to deserve that treatment? Maybe if she behaved better, this wouldn't happen.

You: I want to do something about it. It has to stop.

Friend: Ok, but just don't silently protest – it will offend others. And don't have a march- you'll look like a whiner and we'll lump you in with hate groups. But go a head and try and make a change- I support a change, I really do. Just don't let the red heads feel like equals, unless they clarify that we are all equal.

I see these conversations everywhere. The only difference is, they aren't talking about a red head. They're talking about race.

We're losing empathy and compassion. We're dehumanizing others. Abortion and pornography are greatly contributing to this. Please, stop and listen. Our future as a great nation depends on it.

Kera Yates Birkland

First, as a former musical theater performer, let's just note that “casted” is not a word, and get that out of the way. Now, I'll share my response (edited a bit for clarity):

Kira, I don't know if you realize that “hairism” is a real thing or if you're using this to make a analogy between blacks and a tiny minority (2%) that you think everyone will think it outrageous. Just in case you haven't seen it, prejudice against redheads is a real thing. And, to be completely straight up, it's one that I've never once had anyone recognize as being problematic.

If one says they are judged by the color of their skin, there is lots of sympathy from lots of sources (though, obviously, not all). There is indignation. There is cancellation and ruination of the perpetrator.

In my 56 years, I have never had anyone (except my parents, husband, and other gingers (the older they are, the more they have experienced it)) empathize with the hate heaped on gingers. In fact, almost every time I've mentioned it (rarely), it's openly mocked. (“Redheaded stepchild,” anyone?”) It's a non-issue. It's a stupid exaggeration and we are too fragile.

Both are just colors.

I have never—likely because of what I experienced—understood why anyone would make such an issue of color. I will never understand how or why so many assumptions are made based on color. I see color, just like everyone else. I just think it's incidental and insignificant on it's own.

Yes, you'll get a ton of comments such as those you can already see in this thread, such as, “Oh, but I love red hair!” As if that changes how so many have historically misbehaved toward gingers.

I grew up cursing my hair and wishing it was any other color that would blend into the crowd.

Yes, I dreamed of being Janet Jackson in college. I actually did. I thought she was perfection. Talent, success, beauty, singing and dancing. (No, I wouldn't trade places with her now, but back then…) I would have given anything to have melanin, even a tiny bit. I was just a “fireball” “carrot-top” freckled freak.

I am pasty white and freckled from an era when the “California golden tan” was the thing. I only burn (and in just a few minutes). As a kid I tried to lay out in the sun like my friends, hoping it might eventually work. I actually thought my prolific freckles might meld together into a “tan” if I got enough. That is not a joke. I prayed to have darker skin and not be such a loser. And I earned myriad of second degree burns trying to be “normal.”

I was a fat and sassy baby and then a chubby, bespeckled, freckled mess through elementary and middle school. I paid daily for that. I worked toward transformation in high school, but it's hard for people to forget how they see you.

Once I was in college—and was able to make myself more socially acceptable—I still got comments like:

  • “You're really pretty for a redhead.”
  • “I never pictured myself with a redhead.”
  • “Redheads are more attendant material.” (From a judge, in college, when I tried my hand at beauty pageants.)

I was a musical theater performer. I cannot tell you how many parts I was not even considered for because of my hair. Casting directors can never picture redheads in a family unless everyone in the family is a ginger. Good luck getting that many gingers to audition. (Even then, it would have to be a gypsy family or a clown family or something.)

Gingers are rarely Cinderella, the romantic lead, the hero, the ingenue.

Which parts did my red hair give me an edge in the audition?

  • The hooker
  • The skank
  • The home-wrecker
  • The villain
  • The “woman with a past”
  • The evil stepsister or goofy sidekick
  • Fiona in Brigadoon

Yes, I've played all of those. Fiona was the only major leading lady role—because she's Scottish—unless the leading lady was some variation on the slutty theme. (As an aside, when I was 14, I played a black girl in The Me Nobody Knows, complete with cornrows. We all know how that would fly today.)

When my parents filled out the adoption forms before I was born (in 1964) it featured the following questions:

  • Would you be willing to adopt a child who is handicapped?
  • Would you be willing to adopt a child of a different race?
  • Would you be willing to adopt a child with red hair?

True story. And we still just have one freaking emoji. 👩🏻‍🦰

Hairism as Oppression

My hair has absolutely been the cause for descrimination and negativity. The cons have far outweighed the pros.

But…so what? Life is full of trials and difficulty. It's full of malevolence and disaster as well. We do the best with what we have and try to make life better (for ourselves and others) as we move along the timeline.

Over the years I've come to a decision with how I approach the inevitable in the world. Perhaps it it helpful to others.

A Simplistic Solution to Hairism and Any Other -isms We Perceive

  1. Some people will misjudge you. Some people will prejudge you. That's life. It's best to simply prove them wrong by your actions. Be decent. Be successful. Associate with people who are decent and successful. There are tons of them.
  2. Don't attribute every negative encounter to the -ism you deal with. Everyone gets treated like crap sometimes, including golden tan blonde girls. Unless they say it outright, “Hey, fireball!” you have no idea why they are treating you like crap. Maybe it's your height, weight, intelligence, location. Maybe it's because the person is a jerk and would find something, anything different about you to make you a target, no matter what. The fact that my big difference was my hair color is incidental. Differences are what jerks prey on. Always. If yours is skin color (or weight or accent or income or ability or…) they are still jerks being jerks.
  3. It's very hard to understand what you don't experience. For everyone. Don't expect others to understand or malign them if they don't. They can try. They might have good intentions. They still might fail. Give them mercy anyway.
  4. Don't wallow in victimhood. It doesn't serve you. Become what you are meant to become and enrich the world with your unique gifts.

People may choose not to like us for lots of reasons. They are free to make those choices, fair or not. We can change wrong perceptions…sometimes. We can help others see a different perspective…sometimes. But, always, we can seek out those who love and accept us. And, more importantly, we can give love and acceptance to others.

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