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‘Gingerism’: the last socially acceptable form of bullying?

Human rights champion calls for greater protection for red-headed children

The head of a human rights charity has warned that prejudice against people with ginger hair is “not just ‘harmless banter’” and that red-haired children need to be protected.

Chrissy Meleady, CEO of Equalities and Human Rights UK, told the Sheffield Star that “bullying red-haired people is one of the last socially accepted forms of prejudice against people for a trait they were born with”.

Campaigners and red-haired people have been trying to change such attitudes for years. Redheads worldwide yesterday celebrated Kiss a Ginger Day, established in 2009 in a bid to “offset the far less fun Kick A Ginger Day that takes place in November”, explained daysoftheyear.com.

But “unfortunately, there is a long history of making fun of people with ginger hair in the UK”, said Great British Mag, a site for international students. And although “attitudes have progressed”, cases of “ginger-bullying and exclusion” are still common.

Rights campaigner Meleady spoke out after a teaching assistant at a Sheffield primary school lost an unfair dismissal claim last week. An employment tribunal heard that John Brelsford was sacked after being accused of bullying and “humiliating” pupils, the Sheffield Star reported.

The reported incidents included doing an internet search for “gingerphobia” during a lesson, which “led to a child in the class with red hair being teased by his classmates and getting upset”.

Although gingerism may be presented as just “banter”, rights campaigner Meleady, “who is ginger herself”, argued that such so-called jokes can “strip red-haired children “of their positive self-identity and confidence”, said The Telegraph.

“And worse, it can lead to school refusal, health problems, self-injurious behaviour and even children wanting and trying to die by suicide,” added Meleady, who was awarded an MBE in 2000 for her services to children.

She told the Sheffield Star that she had recently witnessed a case of “a family physically abusing their baby for having red hair as they equated her red hair as being the ‘mark of the devil’”.

Another family, who were seeking to adopt, had said that “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’”, she continued.

Meleady called for action to protect young redheads, “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”.

Between 1% and 2% of the global population have red hair, but the figure is much higher in England, at 6%, and higher still in Scotland, at 13%.  

In 2013, genetic researchers believed they had “developed a powerful tool to combat the bullying of some redheads in Britain”, Reuters reported. The Scottish team discovered that as many as one in three Britons carry red-head genes, meaning that even if they are not redheads themselves, “their future children or grandchildren could be”.

Alastair Moffat of ScotlandsDNA, which carried out the analysis, told the news agency that showing how many Brits have the ginger gene could help end the prejudice that “blights the lives” of many redheads.

The research was published months after of a teenager took her own life after teased about her red hair. Following her death, the father of 15-year-old Helena Farrell, from Cumbria, “demanded discrimination against ginger people to be made a hate crime”, said The Telegraph.

Prince Harry has also spoken about being “bullied for being ginger”, according to the Daily Mail. In 2007, the royal reportedly told a teenager who had won an award for counselling that his army colleagues had “nicknamed him ‘Ginger Bullet Magnet’” and bought ginger wigs as a joke. 

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