Life St Patrick's Day

Saturday 20 September 2014

Red alert - ginger jokes just British Paddywhackery

Lynne Kelleher

Published 16/03/2008 | 00:00

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National Geographic predicts that true redheads will be extinct by 2100

Prejudice against red-heads began in Britain because ginger hair colouring was distinctly Irish, according to a new documentary.

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Titian-tressed beauties like Nicole Kidman and Renee Russo are celebrated around the globe but red-haired stars like Girls Aloud star Nicola and DJ Chris Evans have been cruelly taunted for their Irish-looking appearance in England.

In a new TG4 documentary, Rua, which examines the prejudice towards titian-haired people, glamour model Jordan is criticised for making derogatory remarks about her own newborn daughter's crop of red hair. Diane Negra, Professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia, said red hair became the butt of jokes in Britain because it was associated with Irish people.

She said: "The shock of the fact that the people they were colonising were a great deal like them had to be negotiated and one of the ways that happens is by making the local people primitive, insisting they are physically different in a variety of ways.

"Red hair in the British context does seem constantly to connote the sense of not only difference, not only suspicion, but also that it is an ugliness that cannot be rehabilitated or redeemed.

"Red hair is seen to be a physical deficiency not a physical asset.

"There doesn't seem to be the expectation that it means beauty the way it is in the United States. It becomes a disturbing link to a history and a set of cultural relations that many people might wish to leave in the past."

Irish red-heads in the documentary tell of racial taunts they have suffered in recent years in Ireland and more so in Britain but they say the reception in America is the opposite where red-hair is prized.

One red-headed man said he was furious when he read glamour model Jordan casting aspersions on her own daughter because she was born with red hair. He said: "Jordan now has a baby with red hair and was quoted in a magazine as saying 'I'll always love her even though she is a ginger'. When I read those words I became very, very angry."

Professor Negra said the 'ginger-minger' phrase, meaning an unattractive looking red-headed person, developed recently as another way of putting down red-heads.

"They have hardened the 'g' sound for 'ginger'. The fact that there is this word which sounds unpleasant to the ear is way of reinforcing the socially objectionable nature of red-head people in general," she said.

"It's one of those words where the sound and the meaning come together in a powerful way to reinforce the undesirability of this category."

Irish wrestling champion Sheamus O'Shaunessy said he has suffered prejudice because of his colouring in Britain.

"People in the UK seem to turn up their nose at red-heads like it's some sort of curse or disease, that you would view it as some sort of racism," he said.

The documentary also examines the claim by National Geographic last year that true redheads would be extinct by 2100 since carriers of the gene are less likely to pair up in an age of global intermingling. A child usually needs a copy of the red-headed gene from each parent to get red result.

If both parents are red-headed good chance they will have red-headed children and if both parents are carrying the gene but are not red-heads themselves then there is a 25 per cent chance they will have a red-headed child.

The documentary surprisingly reveals that science has shown that red-headed women feel more pain and bleed more. Irish Anesthesiologist Dr Ursula Galway, who works the leading hospital, the Cleveland Clinic in America, said studies have now proven red-headed females endure more pain.

She said: "It's always said that redheads need more anaesthetic and a number of studies were carried out on this. They found that red-haired women need 19 per cent more anaesthetic than brunettes. We're not sure why they need more anaesthesia. We think it has something to do with the MC1R receptor which is dysfunctional in people with red hair."

Rua will be shown on TG4 on Wednesday at 9.30.

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