Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Don't call me ginger...

When giving talks about ethnic diversity, the plight of refugees and asylum seekers or something along those lines, I often try to inject a little humour into what can be a bleak and frankly depressing subject, by offering the audience examples of what the world might be like for me should we live in a nation where gingers are persecuted.

It would appear that I have been making light of a very serious subject. Following the Guardian Weekend's spread a couple of weeks back previewing Jenny Wicks' forthcoming Root Ginger Exhibition, my eyes were drawn to a couple of letters printed in response my favourite being this one:

At my son's school, gingism was confronted by the introduction of Ginger Fridays, when redheaded kids were allowed to go into dinner first. In addition, they were allowed to take a friend in with them, thus encouraging integration.

Is this serious? Please tell me no? But then I dug around a little more and it does seem that there is a movement tracking prejudice against gingers. The Equality and Human Rights Commission have even been asked to comment on their stance (answer: nothing to do with them - it's a mutation, not a race).

So, is mocking someone for being ginger a prejudice? Well, yes. I was mocked as a child for being ginger. I was also mocked for being too tall, too clever, rubbish at netball, being clumsy, a little bit stupid, incredibly sensible, a geek, having spots, and freckles, a really bad haircut, awesome music taste and parents who were so not cool. (Sorry, did I use the past tense there? I still am mocked for those things). Of course these things are prejudices, if we're developing an opinion that someone is weaker (or better off) as a result of a preconception. Everyone likes to find similarities, and will try to exploit differences. We all have these things. But they're not always bad.

I have also been admired and possibly even benefited from being ginger. Old ladies comment on my hair on buses (well, it is lovely). People sometimes like to touch it (slightly weird). I have a completely unsubstantiated reputation for being quite scary when angry. I get stared at by small children, like I'm some sort of magical creature (occasionally mistaken for a witch), I get served quickly in bars (I stick out) and I'll never need to wear a red rose on a blind date (I'm the ginger one). I have learnt to have a cautious fear of men with ginger fetishes. None of these things have done me any harm.

Ginger isn't a race, though we do tend to band together a bit (we are, I like to think, being mutants, more like the X Men). I don't think ginger jokes and snipes are borne out of a deep routed prejudice against the Irish or the Scots. Sure gingers will get abuse, so will fat people, and short people, those with big noses and sticky out ears or northern accents. If people want to be offensive, then they'll find a reason to be. Trying to band that into racism is just undermining the very serious issue that is racism and that people experience daily, with dreadful consequences. In fact, I am for the first time in my life, forced, not only to agree with something in the Daily Mail, but to think that I couldn't possibly put it any better myself:

Paki does not equate with calling someone ginger; only if people with ginger hair have been attacked in race riots, barred from renting property, beaten up in school and not given jobs because of the colour of their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, would it somehow be on a par.

Now; it's not often I get to do this, so I'm going to take this fine opportunity to finish with a song:


Blogger Pete Kingsley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

04 February, 2009 10:43  
Blogger Pete Kingsley said...

Just to let you know I thought this was a really Sensible post that raised some Important Issues in Serious way.

Throughout reading it, I was in a detached, intellectual state-of-mind, and I wasn't thinking at all about how sweet and ginger you are.

04 February, 2009 11:14  

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