Is Anti - Redhead Bullying A Serious Issue, Or Just A Load Of Hot Hair?
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Is Anti  -  redhead Bullying A Serious Issue, Or Just A Load Of Hot Hair?

In a recently published magazine, model Lily Cole has likened bullying she endured as a child because of her red hair to racism, and says it should be stamped out. Is she correct to make this comparison, or is it a load of hot hair?

Lily has just turned 23, but clearly remembers with upset the childhood during which she was called names like ‘carrot top’ and ‘ginger’, and where nothing was done to stop it from happening.

In the interview printed in the Mail On Sunday’s ‘Live’ magazine, Lily not only talks about the effect the bullying had on her, but points out that although the bullying in her case revolved around her red hair, she thinks she was actually bullied because ‘some kids bully sensitive children’.

She also goes on to state that she believes that such bullying goes on in the UK because there is not the same stigma attached to it as there is to racism, therefore teachers, she believes, do not consider it in the same league and it is not responded to in the same way. She goes on to say that the taunts she endured as a child affected her into adulthood; although she now loves her hair colour.

This may be a familiar story to you if you are a redhead yourself, or have children who have red hair. And whilst it may seem on the surface (pardon the pun) to be a frivolous thing to discuss, with work or school colleagues wanting to pass their comments off as ‘just good fun’ or ‘banter’, if you or your family are on the receiving end of comments and name calling, it is not such a laughing matter.

In June 2007 it was reported that a redheaded family was driven from their home in Newcastle because of the abuse they were enduring related to their hair colour.

They took drastic action as a result of serious harm being done to them because of other people’s prejudices.

In the USA there is no such prejudice against redheaded people, so why in the UK is there not only a prejudice in some people, but also such apathy from people who fail to challenge it?

The first problem of course is that, whilst it is enshrined in UK law that you cannot bully people on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or age, there is no such law about the colour of people’s hair. So for those who can’t figure out for themselves what is acceptable v what is prejudicial and bullying behaviour, they at least can be challenged easily by point of law. When it comes to challenging on the point of red hair, there is no law that says it is not OK, so to those who like to have abuse and bullying in their armour, it becomes more difficult to make the argument that singling out someone because of their red hair is intrinsically ‘wrong’. Lily Cole stated that even having been through her experiences as a child, she would rather still be the bullied than the bully.

And thereby is the problem: there are those for whom it feels better if they can be the bully, because if they are doing the attacking, they at least are not being attacked. For this reason, they will find any reason they can to target a third party.

In the workplace and even in schools in the UK, it is now not easy to get away with any comments that attack others for having a different gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or age. But those who want to attack and bully people to make themselves feel better still exist; they therefore have to find another reason in their own minds to justify doing so.

Tajfel’s social identity theory outlines how as part of everyday life people will ‘band together’ with those with whom they can identify. If they can find a way of feeling superior to that person or group, they will point out and exaggerate those differences to attack, and hence reinforce their feeling of superiority. There does not have to be any rhyme or reason to their justification; in their own mind whatever reason they can come up with will do.

For example, I was once attacked by a (err hum) lady who told me that my hair was ‘too perfect all the time’. Ironic seeing as I consider my hair to be a very dull mousey-brown colour and, apart from a cut every five weeks and a blast with the hairdryer in the morning before going out, I spend very little time on my hair. Those who feel no reason to attack have often commented on how soft and silky my hair is, but again I can’t claim any great knowledge or treatment which ensures that result: it just is.

Another (err hum) lady attacked me at work for no discernable reason…after shouting at me that she didn’t like me and storming off stating that I was ‘finished’ because she was going to contact head office and tell them all about me, I was left stunned and not even able to guess at what I had done to result in such behaviour. It turned out that there was nothing…when I spoke to my colleagues they told me that she had hated me since she had been transferred to out branch, and that from day one she had tried to recruit others into her ‘group’. Fortunately for me, they were a fairly well balanced lot, and no-one had felt the necessity to join in with her. She was hot-footed back to her original branch and from the day she screamed at me to this, I have not seen her since.

So, in essence, it doesn’t matter what excuse someone has found to attack and bully you, whatever is going on in a bully’s own mind is their issue, not yours.

As there are a minority of redheads in the UK, they become a target for those who would band together to form a social identity … But that does not mean that redheads have to become an easy target…

I have worked with children and adults who have been bullied and belittled, made to feel insecure and inferior for many years. Some have been bullied for years; sometimes quite openly because it has gone on so long and no-one has challenged it. Bullying and abusive comments usually take place ‘on the quiet’, however, making it easy for the perpetrator to say that their comments have been taken out of context, or misinterpreted.

I worked with one little boy who was being singled out at school as a bully. The children and parents were not only commenting to him, but also his parents. When we actually examined what was happening in a stage-by-stage recount, it was he who was being bullied and had taken to retaliating when being hit rather than standing by and taking it passively.

In a very sad yet alarming indictment of our current educational system, his so-called teacher had not only failed to find out what was actually happening, but had ‘jumped on the bandwagon’ with the children and parent bullies, who had all repeatedly told him what a horrid child he was…you see this young chap of five years of age had red hair, so according to his teacher, he was obviously ‘fiery’ and ‘hot headed’ in temper and therefore could not be reasoned with or treated with respect because he was never going to show any to anyone else. In fact, when you spent any time with him as I did; chatting to him, keeping him pleasantly occupied, and working through with him what he dealt with every day, what you found was a lovely little boy; with no more a temper than the average five year old, and only a desire to stop others from hurting him.

His parents were also suffering (I use the term advisedly, because they were actually genuinely suffering) on his behalf, and not knowing how to deal with a situation in which they knew the perception of the child was wrong, but there seemed an interminable tide of people waiting in line to attack him (and now them).

One of the benefits of global TV, film and internet access these days is that we can clearly access any information we wish, and it is therefore easy to help young people (and adults) create a positive ‘social identity’ with others whom they may otherwise never have seen or interacted with. For example, it is easy to give children who are experiencing bullying because of their hair colour a good role model in the form of Rupert Grint, he of Harry Potter movie fame. He is someone whose success yet down to earth likeability anyone would like to identify with, and he has made a successful career out of being a redhead. There is no reason why not.

The truth is that bullies will find an excuse to bully. I think it is a myth that only 'sensitive people', as Lily Cole described herself, are prone to being bullied. In my experience the most confident and happy person can be affected if the bullying is persistent and insidious enough. It can damage lives and careers, causing stress, depression and often worse. This is why bullying and attacking comments made on any basis; red head or no red head, should be challenged whenever and wherever they are found.

Children need help and support in times when they are being bullied, and so do adults in the workplace or family who find themselves in a position of being bullied. Those who support those in the firing line also need their own guidance to know the best way to offer help and a shoulder to cry on: ‘Get over it’ and ‘But I love you’ do not cut it in a world of never-ending abuse and stress.

Street Talk

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