A Mild Case of Gingervitus

Posted on March 17, 2010


I remember the first time I was called ginger.

It was in Pompeii, Italy. Seems appropriate in retrospect; that is, to have had my life changed at a historic landmark that destroyed the lives of thousands.

While there my sophomore year of high school with some fellow students, I was negotiating a purchase from a street vendor. He wouldn’t budge on his overpriced item, so I walked away. The vendor wasn’t done with me, though. He chased me down while yelling, “Ginger! Ginger! Five Euro!” and sold me the item for my preferred price. A small victory, perhaps, if you ignore the fact that this moment was the beginning of the end of redheaded normalcy in my life.

I’d never heard this strange term before. I found it hilarious and unusual. Sadly, I later discovered that it wasn’t at all unusual in Europe, and continues to often be used as a derogatory term in the UK. Some redheaded victims of “Gingerism” there have legitimately been abused for their hair color.

We Americans with carrot- and copper-colored locks escaped that abuse for a while, but then came South Park. Inspired by ginger hatred in the UK, the makers of South Park created an episode entitled “Ginger Kids” that changed the face of American gingerness for good. Everyone’s seen it, or heard of it at least. If you haven’t, and you’re tired of having to Google the allusions I make in my blog, here’s a clip.

As a natural ginger, I could’ve been offended by this episode. I could have reacted like this guy:

Instead, I find it quite funny.In the era of post-South Park gingerism, redheads are and always will be the butt of far worse and more creative jokes. I always knew it was only a matter of time, really; I’ve been getting flack about my hair color from my own family for years. My older sister likes to say that I got the “genetic shaft”–I’m the only left-handed one, the only pale one, the only curly haired one, and as the cherry atop the recessive gene-filled sundae, the only one with red hair.

But instead of bemoaning my position at the lowest rut of the hair color caste system, why not capitalize on this hatred for the sake of humor? If anyone should be able to hate on gingers, it should be gingers themselves. Trust me, when your school’s quarterback is Joe Cox, it’s so much easier to see him fail when you’re one of his kind. As I’ve mentioned in the past, too, I find self-deprecation a fine form of humor. It’s so easy to joke about my hair (read: this blog entry). On behalf of gingers everywhere, though, I’d like to say that the “firecrotch” joke needs to die. I would never, EVER use that against my ginger brethren.

I can also say that I am thankful to be a Daywalker. While my Middle Eastern ancestry did fail me, I could be paler. So it could be worse. Yes, I have used sunscreen made for infants in an attempt to prevent sunburn; yes, I have been sunburned so badly on a cloudy, 50-degree day in Massachusetts that my skin peeled; yes, I’m the one at the pool in the summer reading a book in a t-shirt and shorts in the shade or under an umbrella, but that’s beside the point.

Redheadedness, see, relates to skin pigmentation, so the paleness is truly unavoidable. Therefore so is turning red when I exercise. I assume that in your lives you’ve seen a ginger at the gym or some sporting event looking out of shape and out of place, his or her face gleaming like a ripe tomato. Another note on behalf of ginges in that regard: WE KNOW. We hate it. Please don’t stare. It just takes us a while to cool down, alright?

All in all, though, I remain a proud ginger. I will never dye my hair until it greys; it makes me who I am. And to those of you who think we redheads are going extinct, suck onTHAT!

Look out for me as I celebrate my Irish heritage and redheadedness today, St. Patrick’s Day, the one day you wish you too were a ginger.

Oh, PS: To those of you blondes and brunettes who argue about who has more fun, case closed. I’m just sayin’…