By Genevieve Robinson

Carrot Top – Hot Head – Fiery Red – Ginger

Fire Crotch – Fire Crotch – Fire Crotch

Adults swoon over the hue, and it makes you writhe in your skin as much as their kids’ insults do. Your mother insists that your hair is “strawberry blonde, not really red,” which does nothing to preclude you from harassment. You beg her to dye it another color, any other color. She doesn’t understand, and neither do you really. They tease relentlessly. But the tops of carrots are green, you think. The older boys laugh and say regularly, “Shut up, fire crotch.” Teeth clench and scapulae pinch together, but you say nothing. You wonder why they are talking about your privates and think there’s no fire; it makes no sense. Your face burns. You are too young to understand they are thinking of the color of hair that does not exist yet, but old enough to know that yelling will only bring on comments about your “hot headed” temper.

Some comments are innocent, like your aunt’s mention that you “must be the milkman’s baby,” because “where on earth did that hair come from, anyway?” Well, your mother and your father both carried the recessive MC1R genetic mutation. Alone, it sleeps quietly beside the dominant genome in their DNA, but lucky you, you pulled the two halves of their DNA that have that mutation, and now there’s no way out but to be a “fiery red.” You share this genetic mutation with less than two percent of the worldwide population. The fact that this mutation can quietly sneak unnoticed through several generations just makes you even more of a freak of nature. Or at least that is how you are seen. People like you have been treated this way since ancient Egypt and Greece. The Egyptians would have killed you, maybe burned you alive or sacrificed you to the gods, but at least the Greeks only thought of you as scum with the potential to be a vampire after death. Later most of Europe would suspect you practiced witchcraft. You would be talked about in town; the villagers would say you were a sneaky and sexual person. This was particularly true for women. Some psychologists believe that women who dye their hair red wish to emulate the sensuality associated with redheads. Others conducted surveys that prove that redheaded women, natural or not, have sex more often than blondes and brunettes.

Your mother’s hairdresser makes comments, too. She holds a cigarette-scented lock of her hair next to your own, only to proclaim each time that she “almost got it,” or that she was “getting closer.” You wonder, Why would she want my color hair? Sales of hair dye companies prove that more people dye their hair red than any other color. You can spot a dye-job from twenty yards out. They can’t fool you. You know that they are too happy about their hair color for it to be truly red. You know they didn’t grow up with it.

You know that being a true redhead is a strange line to walk, and you don’t always know which side you are on. On one hand, you should be thrilled: you probably won’t die from rickets, you’ll do better than a brunette at beating tuberculosis, and you’ll never have grey hair. Maybe white, but not grey. Thanks to your mutation, your skin produces the red-yellow pigment, pheomelanin, and you absorb a lot more vitamin D in sunshine than your easily tanned eumelanin-producing counterparts. The downside of the health spectrum for mutants is that you are much more likely to develop skin cancer. You’re at higher risk for basal cell carcinoma, as well as melanoma, even if you are not exposed to UV radiation. Your MC1R genome has a self-destruct button, and there’s no good way to know when or if it’s going to be pushed.

Statistics bore you until they remind you of an experience, like the time you were having some cavities drilled and you needed an extra dose of Novocain to keep the painful biting of the drill at bay. As it turns out, your MC1R genome is to blame for that. Some researchers believe it is because the same gene is associated with how the body interprets pain. Your physical pain is more intense, including your sensitivity to cold temperatures. You feel an icy pain when it gets close to 43 degrees Fahrenheit. You wonder why nobody else is complaining about how cold it is—they only feel the pain when it gets to freezing temperatures. No wonder you hate winter in Pennsylvania.

By the time you enter college, you think you have heard all of the jokes; you know not to argue when you’re accused of not really being a redhead (because you know if you do, they’ll ask you to “prove it”). You know that most of these jokes make your pubic hair center stage, and you’d rather walk away than be an unwilling participant. So when an acquaintance makes a reference to South Park, a show you really know nothing about, you’re stupefied. You think you didn’t hear him correctly, and make him repeat it. With utmost ennui he says, “Everybody knows that Gingers have no souls.”

The idea that “Gingers have no souls” comes from the character in the show who is known for being judgmental. Eric Cartman is a heavyset kid who gives a presentation on the evils of “gingers” and how they are so dangerous. The other kids gang up to transform him into one, but instead of learning his lesson he attempts to create a sort of Holocaust that places gingers (now that he is one) in the place of the Aryans. Once your friends have explained all of this to you, you realize that anyone repeating Cartman’s nonsense clearly has trouble grasping satire.

The premise of the South Park episode inspired a fourteen year old asshole to create a Facebook page entitled “Kick a Ginger Day.” He proclaimed this was to take place on November 20, and with five thousand internet followers, it did. Twenty kids were sent home from school for violence at one school, criminal charges for those at another. One boy was kicked over eighty times. You feel lucky you were not subjected to the physical attacks, but secretly you know that it’s probably because you are a girl. They have more fun supporting the ages-old stereotype that you are easy. You poke around the internet and find more disturbing reports. Australia’s branch of government devoted to transportation released a commercial that discourages distracted driving by saying, “Every time you use your mobile phone while driving, gingers get fresh… with other gingers.” You’re temporarily distracted by the pronunciation of gingers—because it rhymes with ringers. Slowly the implications settle.

You aren’t that surprised, though, because you’ve already found out that a British genetics lab offers people the chance to mail their spit, and the spit of their partners, to find out if they both carry the recessive trait. 2,300 people have done this already. You think, Well maybe they do it because they want to have children with red hair, or they are just curious, or, or, or… Not even five minutes later you stumble upon another article. The world’s largest sperm bank has begun to turn away donors with red hair. The company serves over 65 countries, and they have found that the only place where there is any demand for semen from a redhead is in Ireland. You think the next step is to genetically test potential donors before accepting, therefore weeding out anyone who even carries the MC1R genome. You’ve even been told that there are predictions that redheads are going extinct.

Lift your chin and smile when you respond to these flippant remarks. Tell them to check their sources. The “researchers” that released those guesses were working for Proctor & Gamble, a company that sells several brands of hair dye—mostly red dye. Redheads started popping up among the Neanderthals and have lived thus far.

Keep in mind that you will always be a source of visual intrigue, but that this does not define you. When you reach for the sunscreen, or brush your hair, do not think about the taunts and leering eyes. Think instead of the redheads who were exceptional for reasons besides their hair. Think of Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Jefferson, and of course your favorite, Ariel the mermaid. The words said to these people were far less important than the words they said to others. Make your words and deeds count as much as these predecessors’, and your illumination will outshine all that is insignificant.

Endnotes

Cool, Lisa Collier. “Weird Facts about Redheads.” Yahoo! Health. Yahoo Lifestyles Network. Web. 21 March 2014.

This article mentioned reports that proved that redheads require twenty percent more anesthesia than brunettes, that they are more sensitive to heat and cold, as well as some positives. She writes that redheads absorb more Vitamin D, and explains how this helps to ward off Ricketts, which is was often found in areas that do not get a lot of sunshine. She explains how this also prevents osteoporosis and boosts the immune system to help fight Tuberculosis. The fact that redheads do not get gray hair with old age, but rather white hair, comes from this article as well. She also mentions that redheads “have been around since the Neanderthal days,” and that they are not going extinct any time soon, due to carriers of the recessive trait. She also provides the statistic that less than two percent of humans carry the trait. Cool also talked about a study that found that mice with “ginger” genetic mutations did not need sun exposure to develop melanomas, but I also read the article that she was referencing from Nature.

 

Ford, Allison. “Red-Hot Redheads: Cool Facts About Carrot Tops.” Divine Caroline. Meredith Corporation. Web. 21 March 2014.

This blog article provided the information about stereotypes of redheads, such as their treatment by ancient Egyptians and Greeks, the idea that they were witches, untrustworthy, and highly sexual. The article also provided insight into some research that has been done about redheads more recently. She mentions a survey in Hamburg, Germany that proved that redheads have more sex, and that more red hair dye is used than any other color.

James, Susan Donaldson. “You Got the Luck of the Irish: You’re a Redhead!.” Good Morning America. ABC NEWS. Web. 21 March 2014.

This article mentions how BritainsDNA, a genetic testing company, offers couples the opportunity to assess their chances of having a red-haired child. It explains that 2,300 people have undergone this testing. James also mentions the research that redheads are in need of more anesthesia, and are sensitive to extreme temperatures. Vitamin D absorption, rickets prevention, and susceptibility to melanomas on unexposed skin is also briefly mentioned.

Liberalbias100. “South Park’s Kick a Ginger Day leads to Hate Crimes Charges.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 22 Nov. 2008. Web. 21 March 2014.

This is a clip from a news report explaining how the Facebook page inspired by South Park is having real-world ramifications in schools. The reporter briefly interviews Aaron, who was kicked over 80 times. It tells that one school sent home twenty students, while others faced criminal charges.

Moore, Matthew. “Facebook ‘Kick a Ginger’ campaign prompts attacks on redheads.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Web. 21 March 2014.

Matthew Moore’s article explains the epicenter of North American violence towards redheaded children was due to one 14 year olds idea of a joke on Facebook. He mentions that the page was inspired by an episode of South Park, and that the Canadian Mounted Police are investigating him for inciting hate crimes. He also mentions that the counter attack, a Facebook group called “Who thinks Kick a Ginger Day is Stupid” only attracted 365 members, as compared to the original page’s 5,000 followers.

Orange, Richard. “Sperm bank turns down redheads.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Web. 21 March 2014.

Richard Orange reports on the fact that the demand for semen from redheaded men is so low that the world’s largest sperm bank has been forced to refuse any new donors. He quotes the bank’s director, Ole Schou, as saying “I do not think you chose a redhead, unless the partner, for example, the sterile male, has red hair, or because the lone woman has a preference for redheads. And that’s perhaps not so many, especially in the latter case.” He also mentions that the only country that regularly seeks out redheaded donors is Ireland.

Pincott, Jena. “Why are Redheads More Sensitive?.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers. Web. 21 March 2014.

Pincott comments in this article about aspects of the MC1R genome that many others did not. The gene that is affected by the mutation is responsible for pigmentation, but also for the perception of pain. She suggests that this could be the link between the intense pain felt by redheaded test subjects who were shocked, numbed, and chilled, and their genetic difference from the brunettes, who tended to fare better with pain. She also speculates that the “tempestuous, dramatic, high-strung” temperament may be a defense mechanism for physical pain. She suggests that this could be used as a preventative method of avoiding intense pain.

Sexton, Reid. “Government’s ‘Don’t be a Dickhead’ campaign takes aim at ginger, emos.” Drive. The Age. Web. 21 March 2014.

Sexton explains in his article how a road safety campaign commercial uses inappropriate language and hurtful connotations towards redheads. The clip is attached to his article, and just as he says, it shows two red-haired people in bed while a voice over suggests that something terrible will happen if you text and drive. No, not that you will wreck and possibly kill yourself and others, the terrible thing that will happen is that gingers are procreating. The video has been removed from YouTube for its offensive nature, but it can be watched on the web address where you will find the article that explains it. http://theage.drive.com.au/governments-dont-be-a-dickhead-campaign-takes-aim-at-gingers-emos-20100329-r7gr.html.

Smith, Kerri. “Redheaded pigment boosts skin-cancer risk.” Nature. Nature Publishing Group. Web. 21 March 2014.

This article explains what happened in a research experiment with mice that were genetically altered to match the pigmentations of brunettes, gingers, and albinos. The albinos were genetically more similar to the brunettes than they were to the gingers. The intention was to expose the mice to ultraviolet radiation and measure the rate at which the mice developed melanomas. Surprisingly, half of the ginger mice developed melanomas prior to exposure, which led the scientists to believe that the genetic makeup causes them to be prone to melanomas, with or without sun exposure.

Genevieve Robinson graduated in Spring 2014 with a bachelor’s in English and a minor in writing. She is also a member of the English honor society, Sigma Tau Delta.