Somebody explained a phenomena to me recently that I just cannot comprehend. There is widespread harassment of red-haired people in the UK; it’s called gingerism. (When this term was mentioned, I thought the person saying it was making it up…even halfway into the conversation I thought she must be exaggerating. But, alas, no.) She is a red-head who, whist walking down the street has had random strangers yell, “Hey, ginger…you’re ugly!” and some other, more pointed words. This apparently happens frequently without much recourse. One can enter into a legal process if someone calls you a racial epithet at work; however, if you are called a “pale worthless ginger” there is not much one can do. It’s just accepted as normal.
I’m not sure why this is (there are various theories about discrimination toward indiginous Celtic blood and so on). I had never considered red hair as a marker for such abuse—I personally think red hair is beautiful and just assumed that most people do (I know several red-headed men and women and they are all comely to me). But this belief is based on some cultural assumptions—and this makes me wonder about something ugly in humans. Discrimination is a completely cultural construct. In the same way someone from here cannot understand the racial discrimination in America, I cannot understand gingerism—because I have not been educated to discriminate against them.
It’s absurd. It’s so clearly hatred based on an arbitrary assessment; one that no party involved can alter in any way. It’s a discrimination that has no basis in who a person is or what they believe; it is ignorance amplified. It makes me want to stop the next red-head I see and just tell them they are beautiful (though I’d best not try that with some of the burly red-headed guys here; I somehow think they won’t readily grasp what I’m attempting to communicate).
How blind we are to our faults in this; a couple months ago, I was speaking to someone about staying on here in Scotland after finishing my MSc. This fellow said something to the extent of, “Ah, that’s all right and well then for you to stay on…it’s just all these damn immigrants coming in.” I was dumbstruck at this; I honestly think this fellow did not realise that I would be an immigrant—and that what he was saying was that it’s okay for me to be part of this society because I’m white and look like I should be. The problem is those other people who are black, or have red hair, or don’t have the right accent, believe in that other god, don’t support the right football team, or live on the wrong street. I sometimes mourn how pathetic we are.