I'm not alone – there are roughly 7 billion people on this planet, and only 1-2% of them have red hair.
Love us or hate us, it's no secret redheads are polarising. It's hard to find a redhead without a history of being on the receiving end of cruel jokes and bad behaviour – all because of the colour of their hair. The disturbing trend is that it seems to go further than just good-natured teasing and nicknames like Carrot Top or Gingernut.
I canvassed a few fellow redheads before writing this, and was saddened to hear of the repeated abuse many endured: kicking, spitting, rude taunts and hateful comments seemed to be the norm for many. Cases of 'ginger racism' have started to gain significant media attention in the past ten years. Earlier this year the UK media reported that a vicious attack on a Birmingham man was motivated by his red hair.
In our politically-correct, anti-bullying, tolerant society, is ginger-bashing the last socially acceptable 'ism'? Many people are very open about their dislike of red hair and the ever present fear of producing 'ginga-babies'. I detest the words 'ginga' and 'ranga' (derived from orangutan). The sound and common delivery of these words remind me of a now unacceptable term used to describe people with black skin.
While we do have our haters, ginger-lovers are quick to defend us on online forums. It seems redheads are just as passionately loved and admired by some, as they are hated by others. Historically, red hair has been viewed as a sign of a passionate, combustive nature. This is illustrated in art and literature throughout the ages. Red-haired men are depicted as aggressive, powerful and unpredictable; while red-haired women are painted (both literally and figuratively) as the sexy, fiery vixen or temptress.
Just read the words to Bruce Springsteen's song 'Red-Headed Woman' or check out Rossetti's paintings! The admiration for our stereotypically passionate image was recently affirmed by an auction dating website that surveyed 1,000 kiwi men, asking them to list the physical attributes of their ideal mate. Apparently redheads were rated as 'ideal' by men in Auckland.
Growing up ginger
What is it really like to grow up ginger? How have people's perceptions of me and my appearance helped develop who I am today? Thankfully, my unique tresses are greatly admired and championed by parents and extended family. My parents taught me I was hand-crafted by a loving God. Just as King David praises God in Psalm 139, I can also marvel that I am "fearfully and wonderfully made".
This affirmation gave me confidence and security. I felt safe because I knew I was loved and accepted. I'm grateful I escaped the significant childhood trauma many redheads endure. If you are the parent of a child with red hair, please know how much your encouragement, acceptance and affirmation will mean to them now and in years to come.
My most defining physical feature has played a marked role in shaping certain aspects of my character and personality. The archetypal image of a redhead with a feisty nature has followed me throughout life, and the stereotype used to reinforce my behaviour and encourage me. I'm naturally scrappy, and can't resist defending a good cause. My fiery personality is something I'll always attempt to reign in. I will always be learning which battles are worth the energy, and which I should let go. I will always wrestle choosing between passion and its more dangerous companion – anger.
Sometimes I wonder whether my comments would be taken more seriously – and not written off as being irrationally passionate – if I were born blonde or brunette. In fact, I'll wager some of you reading this will write it off as another redhead rant.
One of the most hurtful comments about my hair came from a once-good friend who plainly informed me I was an exception: "I have a rule: never make friends with a Ginga or an Asian". I found this confusing and disgusting. I knew she meant there was something inherently wrong with me; something worth not being around, something worth rejecting. I understand how it feels to be despised for features I have no control over.
Being on the receiving end of these sorts of comments really makes you examine your own heart. How many times have I also prejudged someone's worth, value or personality by their clothing, the colour of their skin, their accent or education? How many times have I failed to look beyond the superficial? Our society continues to perpetuate cultural stereotypes which stop us looking beyond outward appearance. I'm aware that my experiences as a redhead pale in comparison to the abuse, prejudice and hatred many races endure.
However, I believe growing up with ginger hair has helped me to recognise my own cultural biases and work harder to lay aside my prejudices. The perspective I have gained from experience helps me to follow Jesus' command to 'love my neighbour' as I love myself. For that, I am thankful.
Whether positive or negative, my red hair is defining for me. I have come to love my uniqueness and embrace the difference. I just wish society would catch up.
Writing is both a personal and professional passion of mine - with training in Theatre, English Literature and Journalism I love of all forms of communication! After working in journalism, public relations and the performing arts I'm currently taking some time out to focus on a new adventure: motherhood! I live with my husband Andrew and our son Guy in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we enjoy spending time with our large extended family and serving our local church.
Sophia Sinclair's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sophia-sinclair.html