Hating Redheads, a Time Honored Tradition

“Red hair is my life long sorrow.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

No doubt psychologists and philosophers have delved deeply into dynamics of hatred, how it develops, both physiologically and socially.

However, I’m a layman, unfamiliar with any such studies. It seems like a worthwhile line of questioning, though, especially in this land of mass shootings. I’m interested in what the latest research has to say.

I do believe through personal experience, however, that prejudice is learned, that Dylan Roof wasn’t born hating blacks. He picked racism up somewhere along his stumbling through youth in a land “where old times are not forgotten.”

Here’s a personal example that suggests racism is learned.

In the 90’s, my older son Harrison was into the Ghostbuster franchise, and Winston, the African American Ghostbuster, was his favorite.

One day when he and his brother Ned were playing with those action figures in the playroom, I said, “Harrison, you know, if you ever have a son, you can name him Winston,”

His response: “I will if he’s black.”

Here’s a better example found in that Flannery O’Connor story where a young boy and his grandfather are riding a train to Atlanta,. The boy Nelson has never seen an African American until he encounters a fellow passenger (who just happens to be his social-economic superior}.

A huge coffee-colored man was coming slowly forward. He had on a light suit and a yellow satin tie with a ruby pin in it. One of his hands rested on his stomach, which rode majestically under his buttoned coat, and in the other he held the head of a black walking stick that he picked up and set down with a deliberate outward motion each time he took a step. He was proceeding very slowly, his large brown eyes gazing over the heads of the passengers. He had a small white mustache and white crinkly hair. Behind him there were two young women, both coffee-colored, one in a yellow dress and one in a green. Their progress was kept at the rate of his and they chatted in low throaty voices as they followed him.

[. . .]

“What was that?” [the grandfather, Mr. Head] asked.

“A man,” the boy said and gave him an indignant look as if he were tired of having his intelligence insulted.

“What kind of a man?” Mr. Head persisted, his voice expressionless.

“A fat man,” Nelson said. He was beginning to feel that he had better be cautious.

“You don’t know what kind?” Mr. Head said in a final tone.

“An old man,” the boy said and had a sudden foreboding that he was not going to enjoy the day.

“That was a nigger,” Mr. Head said and sat back.

[. . .]

[Nelson] felt that the Negro had deliberately walked down the aisle in order to make a fool of him and he hated him with a fierce raw fresh hate; and also, he understood now why his grandfather disliked them.

* * *

But what, I wonder egocentrically, are the dynamics that give rise to a hatred of redheads? Even the webpage TV Tropes acknowledges the phenomenon:

“I’m gonna beat you like a redheaded stepchild.”

— LyleBuffy the Vampire Slayer

Redheads who are bullied, picked-on, beaten, or just plain hated for no reason other than having red hair. Sadly, this is not a Discredited Trope.

What is it about a having been born, no fault of your own, with a “carrot top” that makes some people despise you? Certainly, it’s not because you offer a convenient scapegoat for dispossessed Southerners who need to feel better about the lower rungs they inhabit on the social ladder. I mean, the lower classes of our region boasts wagon loads of gingers.

That some people hate redheads came to me early on, when I was 9 or so, at the post office in my hometown Summerville, SC. My mother had sent me inside to fetch the mail. As I turned the key to open a box, I heard a man, a complete stranger, say, “Red on the head like a dick on a dog.”

I realized at the time the remark was inaccurate. I had seen Paul Smith’s dog Champ do it with a neighbor’s dog, and I knew my hair wasn’t the color of a dog’s penis — not a pinkish hue – not even Irish orange – but what people called auburn.

I wasn’t so much insulted but surprised. It made me feel weird.

Flash forward 13 years. I’m a college freshman walking on a sidewalk with my pal Warren Moise, and a total stranger, much older than we, walking in the opposite direction, says in passing to me, “You ugly enough to raise a blister on a bulldog’s ass.”

I’m absolutely certain he said so because my red hair was shoulder length.

me in 1973

I was already late to class, so I let it be — although I would have liked to unleash a Jerry-Lee-Lewis barrage of Anglo-Saxon epithets on his cracker ass. I was pretty good high-flown cussing back then. Still am, as a matter of fact.

Anyway, once again, I knew even though my complexion was more pepperoni-like than Scandinavian, there was no way the sight of my visage spontaneously could erupt a serum filled pustule on a bulldog’s sphincter.

Still, it didn’t make my day, and obviously, I haven’t forgotten either incident.  But it raises the question what is it about redheads that they become unmated stepchildren ripe for abuse? All I can up with is people don’t dig differences. My dog Jack despised the 3-legged dog that used to hop past our house. I bet albinos receive their share of slurs. And what am I whining about anyway?   What little hair I have has gone white, though I do still support a galaxy of freckles from my ankles to my baldpate.