Red Hair

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Woman with red hair
Man with red hair and beard

Red hair (or ginger hair) occurs naturally in two percent of the overall planet earth, human population, appearing in higher percentages (two to six percent) among people of Northern or Northwestern European ancestry and lesser frequency in other human populations. So for the most part, gingers are a rare breed, far outnumbered by the yellow and brown haired members of the human species. It is most common in individuals homozygous for a recessive allele on chromosome 16 that produces an altered version of the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) protein. According to a study in 2003 by Gregory S. Barsh of Stanford University, the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) plays important roles in human basal pigmentation and ultra violet rays (UVR)-induced tanning response. The human MC1R locus is highly polymorphic. Gene polymorphism is a gene is said to be polymorphic if more than one allele occupies that gene's locus within a population. This result of being highly polymorphic is what happens in the diversity of skin pigmentation levels. Extensive research by Paul B. Fisher and Kenneth D. Tew in the book "Advances in Cancer Research" fully detail MC1R variants, red hair and melanoma susceptibility for the human population with red hair.

Red hair in all it’s unique hues vary from a dark auburn or bright copper, to burnt orange, or red-orange to strawberry blond. Red hair has the highest levels of pheomelanin, containing a reddish pigment of around 67 percent, and mainly low levels of eumelanin, a dark brown/black bioaggregate of melanin pigment. Red hair is associated with fair skin color, lighter eye color, freckles, and sensitivity to ultraviolet light. Cultural reactions to red hair have varied from ridicule to admiration with many common stereotypes in existence regarding redheads. Since 1510 the term redhead (originally redd hede) has been in use on earth.

Genetic Mutation

Woman with strawberry blond red hair and lighter eye color

Science is clear that being redheaded isn't the same as being a blonde or a brunette. That's because our ginger baes are different on a genetic level, which may be why it's so hard to fake, at least convincingly. In fact, gingers specifically have a mutation on their MC1R gene, according to the National Institutes of Health. Redheads really do have a special set of attributes that their blonde and brunette counterparts don't. The following are scientific facts that make their hair so crimson and their skin so pale. The mutation on their MC1R gene increases the amount of the red pigment (phaeomelanin) that gingers have, and decreases the amount of the darker pigment (eumelanin) they produce. That's what causes redheads to have fairer skin, freckles, pale colored eyes and, of course, red hair. That's also why redheads have to be careful in the sun, as they're more sensitive to sunlight due to the lack of eumelanin.

Auburn hair

An American girl with freckles, and a darker shade of red, known as "auburn hair"

Auburn hair is commonly described as being a rich deep red shade or a reddish brown in color or dark ginger. Auburn hair is a variety of red hair. Auburn hair ranges in shades from medium to dark. It can be found with a wide array of skin tones and eye colors, but as is the case with most red hair, it is commonly associated with light skin features. The chemical pigments that cause the coloration of auburn hair are frequently pheomelanin with high levels of eumelanin; however, the auburn hair is due to a mutated melanocortin 1 receptor gene in the people of Northwestern European descent and by a mutated TYRP1 gene in the Austronesians, both genes that reduce the melanin production of the hair cells. "Auburn" can be used to describe many shades of reddish hair with similar definitions or hues. It is often conflated in popular usage with Titian hair. In comparison, titian is a tint of red hair, most commonly described as brownish-orange, while auburn hair is a brownish shade of red hair, specifically defined as encompassing the actual color red. Most definitions of Titian hair describe it as a brownish-orange color, but some describe it as being reddish. This is in reference to red hair itself, not the color red. The term originates from Tiziano Vecellio (Titian), c1488–1576, an Italian painter, perhaps the most important painter of the Renaissance in Venice, Italy who would often depict women with red hair of this description. Titian has been used as a hair color term in the United States as early as the 1800s, when women were commonly using henna to dye their hair a Titian color. Auburn encompasses the deep color maroon, which is a chestnut red color, and Merlot, which is a touch lighter and a bit redder than burgundy. In contrast with the two colors, auburn is more red in color, while chestnut is more brown, and burgundy is more purple; chestnut hair is also commonly referred to as "chestnut-brown". The word "auburn" comes from the Old French word alborne, which meant blond, coming from Latin word alburnus ("off-white"). Additionally from Medieval Latin alburnus whitish. The first recorded use of auburn in English was in 1430. The word was sometimes corrupted into abram, for example in early (pre-1685) folios of Coriolanus, Thomas Kyd's Soliman and Perseda (1588) and Thomas Middleton's Blurt, Master Constable (1601). Auburn hair is quite prevalent among people of western and northern European descent, in addition to North Africans, but it is relatively rare elsewhere. Those who naturally possess the shade of Auburn red hair make up just 1-2 percent of the population. Auburn hair occurs most frequently in Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway and Sweden), Britain, Ireland, continental Germanic Europe (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg), France and northern Iberia, Poland, and Russia. This hair color is less common farther south and southeast, but can occur somewhat regularly in Southern Europe (more so in Spain, and to some extent Portugal and Italy). It can also be found in other parts of the world colonized by genetically European people, such as North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Siberia, etc. Auburn is sometimes seen among the indigenous people of Taiwan (Formosa), but it is absent in the later Han Chinese immigrants. It is more common among the Formosan aborigines than among the white people of Northwestern European descent; however, with them it is not due to the mutated MC1R gene but to the mutated TYRP1 gene, both of which reduce melanin production.

Geographic distribution

Modern

Northern and Western Europe

Redheads have very fair skin, almost always lighter than non-redheads. This is an advantage in northern latitudes and very rainy countries, where sunlight is sparse. Red hair is most commonly found at the Northern and Western fringes of Europe; it is centered on populations in the British Isles. Redheads are commonly associated with the Celtic nations. Celts' red hair could be attributed to the cloudy weather. The experts believe that the gloomy climate in Scotland prompted a deliberate genetic adaptation. Essentially, this means that red hair helps to take advantage of sunny days and allows the body to absorb more vitamin D. Ireland has the highest number of people with red hair per capita on the earth with the percentage of those with red hair at around 10 percent. Great Britain also has a high percentage of people with red hair. In Scotland around 6 percent of the population has red hair; with the highest concentration of red head carriers in the world found in Edinburgh, making it the red-head capital of the world. In 1907, the largest ever study of hair color in Scotland, which analyzed over 500,000 people, found the percentage of Scots with red hair to be 5.3 percent. A 1956 study of hair color among British Army recruits also found high levels of red hair in Wales and in the Anglo-Scottish border counties of England.

Eastern and Southern Europe

In the country of Italy, red hair is found at a frequency of less than 1 percent (0.57 percent) of the total country population, without variation in frequency across the different regions of the country. In the country of Sardinia, red hair is found at a frequency of approximately less than a quarter of 1 percent (0.24 percent) of the population. Victorian era ethnographers considered the Udmurt people of the Volga Region in Russia to be "the most red-headed men in the world". The Volga region still has one of the highest percentages of redheaded people. Red hair is also found amongst the Ashkenazi Jewish populations. In 1903, 5.6% of Polish Jews had red hair. Other studies have found that 3.69% of Jewish women overall were found to have red hair, but around 10.9% of all Jewish men have red beards. Before the 20th century, in European culture, red hair was often seen as a stereotypically Jewish trait: during the Spanish Inquisition, all those with red hair were identified as Jewish. In Italy, red hair was associated with Italian Jews, and Judas Iscariot was traditionally depicted as red-haired in Italian and Spanish art. Judas Iscariot was also described by William Shakespeare to have Red hair as well. The practice is comparable to the Renaissance portrayal of Jews with red hair, which was, at the time, regarded as a negative trait and which may have been used to correlate Judas Iscariot with contemporary Jews. The stereotype that red hair is Jewish remains in parts of Eastern Europe and Russia.

North Africa and Mediterranean

The Berber populations of Morocco and northern Algeria have occasional redheads. Red hair frequency is especially significant among the Riffian Berbers from Morocco and Kabyle people from Algeria. Their pigmentation is characteristically brunette, but definite blonds occur. Black and dark brown hair run to 85 percent of the whole, while red heads number 4 percent. There are, however, a noticeable number of Kabyles with red hair, blue eyes and light skin/fair skin, respectively. The Queen of Morocco, Lalla Salma wife of king Mohammed VI, has red hair. Abd ar-Rahman I also had red hair, his mother being a Christian Berber slave.

Asia (all regions)

In Asia, genetic red hair is rare, but reddish-brown auburn hair can be found in Iran, in the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine), in Turkey, in Caucasia, in Northern Kazakhstan, and among Uyghurs and Udmurt people. The use of henna on hair and skin for various reasons occasionally occurs in Asia. When henna is used on hair it dyes the hair to different shades of red.

Americas, Oceania and Sub-Saharan Africa

Emigration from Europe has multiplied the population of red haired humans in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In the United States, it is estimated that 2–6% of the population has red hair. Scottish and Irish emigration have made the United States, the home of the largest population of redheads in the world at between 6 million and 18 million, with many millions more carrying the gene variants. Comparatively to the U.S. Ireland has approximately 420,000 red heads and Scotland has approximately 300,000 Red heads. Data on red headed people per state as in the census does not register the definitive most populous red haired people per state. However based upon the states Kentucky and West Virginia having the same Scottish, Irish, and English makeup from history and settlement. It is fabled heavily to have the most gingers of all the United States in America. Ranga is a person with red hair. It’s an abbreviation of orang-utan (a primate with reddish-brown hair native to the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia). The first written evidence for the term as applied to red-haired people appears in Australian newspapers in the early 2000s. The reason for the frequency of these terms is because of the small percentage of red-haired people. The Australian word ranga is a relatively recent addition to colloquial terms for red-haired people. Bluey may refer to Red, or reddish in Australian slang, especially a man with red hair. The nickname Bluey originated in the 1890s thru approximately 1906 according to legend and was used as a nickname throughout World War One to refer to red-haired soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force, especially from New South Wales. During the Second World War, nearly every redhead was nicknamed Bluey, and it spread to civilian life. Four percent of the Australian population has red hair and two point five percent of the New Zealand population has red hair. When the Maori arrived in New Zealand 800 years ago, there were very tall white-skinned, red-haired people already living there, just as the native Americans have said of the lands they moved to in the US. This appears to be a world-wide phenomenon, but there is little to no discussion of these people, who they were and where they came from. Archaeological digs were performed but the New Zealand government is holding the results until 2065, and any further finds are usually destroyed.

Historical

Several accounts by Greek writers mention redheaded people. A fragment by the poet Xenophanes describes the Thracians as blue-eyed and red-haired. The ancient peoples Budini and Sarmatians are also reported by Greek author to be blue-eyed and red-haired, and the latter even owe their names to it. In Asia, red hair has been found among the ancient Tocharians, who occupied the Tarim Basin in what is now the northwesternmost province of China. Caucasian Tarim mummies have been found with red hair dating to the 2nd millennium BC. Reddish-brown (auburn) hair is also found amongst some Polynesians, and is especially common in some tribes and family groups. In Polynesian culture reddish hair has traditionally been seen as a sign of descent from high-ranking ancestors and a mark of rulership.

Biochemistry and the genetics of Red Hair

The lack of diversity of the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) alleles in African population suggests that the gain-of-function MC1R variants have been selected for higher eumelanin production. In contrast, dysfunctional variants, found enriched in the population with European ancestry, impair its ability in elevating cAMP levels and tyrosinase expression in melanocytes. As a result, melanocytes carrying the dysfunctional variants produce more pheomelanin, leading to lighter skin and red hair color. The enrichment of these variants is evolutionarily selected in the population living at high-latitude regions to compensate for the reduced vitamin D synthesis due to low sunlight exposure. The red hair phenotype, accompanied by fair skin and freckles in pigmentation, is associated with pheomelanin production. Red hair has far more of the pigment pheomelanin than it has of the dark pigment eumelanin. The genetics of red hair appear to be associated with the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R), which is found on chromosome 16. Eighty percent of redheads have an MC1R gene variant. Red hair is associated with fair skin color because low concentrations of eumelanin throughout the body of those with red hair caused by a MC1R mutation can cause both. The lower melanin concentration in skin confers the advantage that a sufficient concentration of important Vitamin D can be produced under low light conditions.

UV radiation is the strongest near the equator because ozone in these areas is naturally thinner, so there is less to absorb the UV radiation. In this case when the human redhead has a lower concentration of melanin, while living or being exposed near Earth's equator, can lead to multiple disadvantages medically, with skin cancer being at an extremely high risk. Although in much more rare occasions, some humans do not come by their red hair via the MC1R gene, the MC1R variant gene that typically helps produce red hair generally results in a fairer skin that is difficult or impossible to tan. As a result of the natural tanning reaction to the sun's ultraviolet light and high amounts of pheomelanin in the skin, freckles on the pale skin are a common and an inherited characteristic of hyper-pigmentation, but not always a universal feature of red-haired people. Culturally natural red hair typically originates from Celtic, Scottish, and Irish origins accompanied by very white skin. The red hair color can originate from several changes on the MC1R-gene. If one of these changes is present on both chromosomes then the respective individual is likely to have red hair. This type of inheritance is described as an autosomal recessive. According to a a study in 2001 by, Oxford University, in almost all families MC1R alleles behave as normal recessive mutations, although there are a few rare human individuals with red hair in whom no MC1R variant can be found. Even if both parents do not have red hair themselves, both can be carriers for this MC1R-gene and have a child with red hair.

Genetic studies of dizygotic (fraternal) twins indicate that the MC1R gene is not solely responsible for the red hair phenotype; unidentified modifier genes exist, making variance in the MC1R gene necessary, but not sufficient, for red hair production. The pigment pheomelanin gives red hair its distinctive color. Red hair has far more of the pigment pheomelanin than it has of the dark pigment eumelanin. The genetics of red hair appear to be associated with the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R), which is found on chromosome 16. Eighty percent of redheads have an MC1R gene variant. Variants of the melanocyte-stimulating hormone receptor gene are associated with red hair and fair skin in humans. Red hair is associated with fair skin color because low concentrations of eumelanin throughout the body of those with red hair caused by a MC1R mutation can cause both. The lower melanin concentration in skin confers the advantage that a sufficient concentration of important Vitamin D can be produced under low light conditions. Additionally red hair doesn’t gray in color as much as other hair colors. As the human gets older, their red hair initially tends to turn blond and then white.

Genetics

A close-up view of red hair

The alleles Arg151Cys, Arg160Trp, Asp294His, and Arg142His on MC1R are shown to be recessive genes for the red hair phenotype. The gene HCL2 (also called RHC or RHA) on chromosome 4 may also be related to red hair. There are 8 genetic differences associated with red hair color. Red hair is caused by a relatively rare recessive allele (variant of a gene), the expression of which can skip generations. Red hair is the rarest natural hair color in humans. The non-tanning skin associated with red hair may have been advantageous in far-northern climates where sunlight is scarce.

Medical implications of the red hair gene

Melanoma

Melanin in the skin aids UV tolerance through sun tanning, but fair-skinned people lack the levels of melanin needed to prevent indirect UV-induced DNA-damage. Studies have shown that red hair alleles in MC1R increase freckling and decrease tanning ability. It has been found that Europeans who are heterozygous for red hair exhibit increased sensitivity to UV radiation. Red hair and its relationship to UV sensitivity are of interest to many melanoma researchers. Sunshine can both be good and bad for a person's health and the different alleles on MC1R represent these adaptations. It also has been shown that individuals with pale skin are highly susceptible to a variety of skin cancers such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.

Pain tolerance and injury

People with red hair have different sensitivity to pain compared to people with other hair colors. One study found that people with red hair are more sensitive to thermal pain (associated with naturally occurring low vitamin K levels, while another study concluded that redheads are less sensitive to pain from multiple modalities, including noxious stimuli such as electrically induced pain. Researchers have found that people with red hair require greater amounts of anesthetic. Other research publications have concluded that women with naturally red hair require less of the painkiller pentazocine than do either women of other hair colors or men of any hair color. A study showed women with red hair had a greater analgesic response to that particular pain medication than men. A follow-up study by the same group showed that men and women with red hair had a greater analgesic response to morphine-6-glucuronide. The unexpected relationship of hair color to pain tolerance appears to exist because redheads have a mutation in a hormone receptor that can apparently respond to at least two types of hormones: the pigmentation-driving melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH), and the pain-relieving endorphins. (Both derive from the same precursor molecule, POMC, and are structurally similar.) Specifically, redheads have a mutated melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) gene that produces an altered receptor for MSH. Melanocytes, the cells that produce pigment in skin and hair, use the MC1R to recognize and respond to MSH from the anterior pituitary gland. Melanocyte-stimulating hormone normally stimulates melanocytes to make black eumelanin, but if the melanocytes have a mutated receptor, they will make reddish pheomelanin instead. MC1R also occurs in the brain, where it is one of a large set of POMC-related receptors that are apparently involved not only in responding to MSH, but also in responses to endorphins and possibly other POMC-derived hormones. Though the details are not clearly understood, it appears that there is some crosstalk between the POMC hormones; this may explain the link between red hair and pain tolerance. There is little or no evidence to support the belief that people with red hair have a higher chance than people with other hair colors to hemorrhage or suffer other bleeding complications. One study, however, reports a link between red hair and a higher rate of bruising. Redheaded women report bruising more easily than other women of different hair colors.

Red hair of pathological origin

Most red hair is caused by the MC1R gene and is non-pathological. However, in rare cases red hair can be associated with disease or genetic disorder:

  • In cases of severe malnutrition, normally dark human hair may turn red or blonde. The condition, part of a syndrome known as kwashiorkor, is a sign of critical starvation caused chiefly by protein deficiency, and is common during periods of famine.
  • One variety of albinism (Type 3, a.k.a. rufous albinism), sometimes seen in Africans and inhabitants of New Guinea, results in red hair and red-colored skin.
  • Red hair is found on people lacking Proopiomelanocortin (POMC). POMC deficiency causes severe obesity that begins at an early age. In addition to obesity, people with this condition have low levels of a hormone known as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and tend to have red hair and pale skin.

Culture

Throughout history, redheads have been feared and revered, loathed and adored, degraded and exalted. No other single human trait has provoked such a dichotomy of emotions in such a large number of fellow humans. Scots, with their high percentage of red haired people, are descended from the Celts, notoriously violent warriors. It is this perception that spawned many strange and fantastical beliefs and ideas about red hair. The myths do seem to permeate all cultures. Russian tradition declares that red hair is both a sign of a fiery temper and craziness, and a proverb warns, "There was never a saint with red hair. Indeed, red hair figures in the bible, The word Adam is supposedly the Hebrew word for 'red' or 'ruddy', and Judas- is often portrayed with red hair as is Mary Magdalene. King David is thought to have been a redhead, and some even believe the 'mark of cain' to actually be red hair.

Beliefs about temperament

A common belief about redheads is that they have fiery tempers and sharp tongues. In Anne of Green Gables, a character says of Anne Shirley, the redheaded heroine, that "her temper matches her hair", while in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield remarks that "People with red hair are supposed to get mad very easily, but Allie [his dead brother] never did, and he had very red hair."

According to Hamburg sex researcher Dr. Werner Habermehl, women with red hair have more sex than blondes or brunette women or women with other hair colors. He also postulates that women in a relationship who dye their hair red may be signaling that they are unhappy and looking for something better. During the early stages of modern medicine, red hair was thought to be a sign of a sanguine temperament. In the Indian medicinal practice of Ayurveda, redheads are seen as most likely to have a Pitta temperament. Another belief is that redheads are highly sexed; for example, Jonathan Swift satirizes redhead stereotypes in part four of Gulliver's Travels, "A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms," when he writes that: "It is observed that the red-haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest, whom yet they much exceed in strength and activity." Swift goes on to write that "neither was the hair of this brute [a Yahoo] of a red color (which might have been some excuse for an appetite a little irregular) but black as a sloe". Such beliefs were given a veneer of scientific credibility in the 19th century by Cesare Lombroso and Guglielmo Ferrero. They concluded that red hair was associated with crimes of lust, and claimed that forty eight percent of "criminal women" were redheads.

Media, fashion and art

The cultural icon Ariel, a teenage mermaid with red hair, seen in this modern 21st century new art by Jirka Vinse Jonathan Väätäinen

Queen Elizabeth I of England was a redhead, and during the Elizabethan era in England, red hair was fashionable for women. In modern times, red hair is subject to fashion trends; celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Alyson Hannigan, Karen Gillian, Christina Hendricks, Emma Stone, Molly Ringwald, Ellie Kemper, Lauren Ambrose and Lena Katina can boost sales of red hair dye. Sometimes, red hair darkens as people get older, becoming a more brownish color or losing some of its vividness. This leads some to associate red hair with youthfulness, a quality that is generally considered desirable. In several countries such as India, Iran, Bangladesh and Pakistan, henna and saffron are used on hair to give it a bright red appearance. Many painters have exhibited a fascination with red hair. The hair color "Titian" takes its name from the artist Titian, who often painted women with red hair. Early Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli's famous painting The Birth of Venus” depicts the mythological goddess Venus as a redhead. Other painters notable for their redheads include the Pre-Raphaelites, Edmund Leighton, Amedeo Modigliani, and Gustav Klimt. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "The Red-Headed League" (1891) involves a man who is asked to become a member of a mysterious group of red-headed people. The 1943 film DuBarry Was a Lady featured red-heads Lucille Ball and Red Skelton in Technicolor. Red hair is a handy way to make characters stand out. Many Disney heroes and heroines begin their stories feeling like they don’t fit in, until they discover their true selves. Red heads in films or on TV are often portrayed as villains or with negative traits like fiery, unpredictable tempers, but not in Disney films or TV. Disney’s love affair with ginger is evident. Notable fictional characters with red hair includes: Ariel, Jessica Rabbit, Leeloo, Beverly Crusher, Angela Chase, Amy Pond, Pippi Longstocking, Daphne Blake, Dana Scully, Mary Jane Watson, Ginny Weasley, Gaila, Merida, Peter Pan, Jessie, Hercules, Eliza Thornberry, Tintin, Red Sonja, Erin O'Byrne, Mystique, Anna of Arendelle, Scarlett (Shana M. O'Hara), Claire Fisher, Claire Standish, Kimmy Schmidt, and Poison Ivy (character).

Prejudice and discrimination against redheads

Medieval beliefs

Red hair was thought to be a mark of a beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration. A savage red-haired man is portrayed in the fable by Grimm brothers "Iron John" (AKA "Iron Hans" or "Der Eisenhans") as the spirit of the forest of iron. Theophilus Presbyter describes how the blood of a red-haired young man is necessary to create gold from copper, in a mixture with the ashes of a basilisk. Montague Summers, in his translation of the Malleus Maleficarum, notes that red hair and green eyes were thought to be the sign of a witch, a werewolf or a vampire during the Middle Ages; quote|Those whose hair is red, of a certain peculiar shade, are unmistakably vampires. It is significant that in ancient Egypt, as Manetho tells us, human sacrifices were offered at the grave of Osiris, and the victims were red-haired men who were burned, their ashes being scattered far and wide by winnowing-fans. It is held by some authorities that this was done to fertilize the fields and produce a bounteous harvest, red-hair symbolizing the golden wealth of the corn. But these men were called Typhonians, and were representatives not of Osiris but of his evil rival Typhon, whose hair was red.

Medieval antisemitism

During the Spanish Inquisition, people of red hair were identified as Jewish and isolated for persecution. In Medieval Italy and Spain, red hair was associated with the heretical nature of Jews and their rejection of Jesus, and thus Judas Iscariot was commonly depicted as red-haired in Italian and Spanish art. Writers from Shakespeare to Dickens would identify Jewish characters by giving them red hair, with red-hair being given by the authors to villainous Jewish characters such as Shylock and Fagin. The antisemitic association persisted into modern times in Soviet Russia. The medieval prejudice against red-hair may have derived from the Ancient biblical tradition, in relation to biblical figures such as Esau and King David. The Ancient historian Josephus would mistranslate the Hebrew Torah to describe the more positive figure of King David as 'golden haired', in contrast to the negative figure of Esau, even though the original Hebrew Torah implies that both King David and Esau had 'fiery red hair'.

Modern-day discrimination

In his 1885 book I Say No, Wilkie Collins wrote "The prejudice against habitual silence, among the lower order of the people, is almost as inveterate as the prejudice against red hair." In his 1895 memoir and history The Gurneys of Earlham, Augustus John Cuthbert Hare described an incident of harassment: "The second son, John, was born in 1750. As a boy he had bright red hair, and it is amusingly recorded that one day in the streets of Norwich a number of boys followed him, pointing to his red locks and saying, "Look at that boy; he's got a bonfire on the top of his head," and that John Gurney was so disgusted that he went to a barber's, had his head shaved, and went home in a wig. He grew up, however, a remarkably attractive-looking young man." In British English, the word "ginger" is sometimes used to describe red-headed people (at times in an insulting manner), with terms such as "gingerphobia" and "gingerism" used by the British media. In Britain, redheads are also sometimes referred to disparagingly as "carrot tops" and "carrot heads". (The comedian "Carrot Top" uses this stage name.) "Gingerism" has been compared to racism, although this is widely disputed, and bodies such as the UK Commission for Racial Equality do not monitor cases of discrimination and hate crimes against redheads. Nonetheless, individuals and families in Britain are targeted for harassment and violence because of their hair color. In 2003, a 20-year-old was stabbed in the back for "being ginger". In 2007, a UK woman won an award from a tribunal after being sexually harassed and receiving abuse because of her red hair; in the same year, a family in Newcastle upon Tyne, was forced to move twice after being targeted for abuse and hate crime on account of their red hair. In May 2009, a schoolboy committed suicide after being bullied for having red hair. In 2013, a fourteen-year-old boy in Lincoln, England had his right arm broken and his head stamped on by three men who attacked him "just because he had red hair". The three men were subsequently jailed for a combined total of ten years and one month for the attack. A possible fringe theory explaining the historical and modern mistreatment of red-heads supposedly stems from Roman subjugation and consequent persecution of Celtic Nations when arriving in the British Isles. This prejudice has been satirized on a number of TV shows. English comedian Catherine Tate (herself a redhead) appeared as a red-haired character in a running sketch of her series The Catherine Tate Show. The sketch saw fictional character Sandra Kemp, who was forced to seek solace in a refuge for ginger people because she had been ostracized from society. The British comedy Bo' Selecta! (starring redhead Leigh Francis) featured a spoof documentary which involved a caricature of Mick Hucknall presenting a show in which celebrities (played by themselves) dyed their hair red for a day and went about daily life being insulted by people. (Hucknall, who says that he has repeatedly faced prejudice or been described as ugly on account of his hair color, argues that Gingerism should be described as a form of racism. Comedian Tim Minchin, himself a redhead, also covered the topic in his song "Prejudice". The pejorative use of the word "ginger" and related discrimination was used to illustrate a point about racism and prejudice in the "Ginger Kids", "Le Petit Tourette", "It's a Jersey Thing" and "Fatbeard" episodes of South Park. Film and television programs often portray school bullying as having red hair. However, children with red hair are often themselves targeted by bullies; "Somebody with ginger hair will stand out from the crowd," says anti-bullying expert Louise Burfitt-Dons. In November 2008 social networking website Facebook received criticism after a 'Kick a Ginger' group, which aimed to establish a "National Kick a Ginger Day" on 20 November, acquired almost 5,000 members. A 14-year-old boy from Vancouver who ran the Facebook group was subjected to an investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for possible hate crimes. In December 2009 British supermarket chain Tesco withdrew a Christmas card which had the image of a child with red hair sitting on the lap of Father Christmas, and the words: "Santa loves all kids. Even ginger ones" after customers complained the card was offensive.

In October 2010, Harriet Harman, the former Equality Minister in the British government under Labour, faced accusations of prejudice after she described the red-haired Treasury secretary Danny Alexander as a "ginger rodent". Alexander responded to the insult by stating that he was "proud to be ginger". Harman was subsequently forced to apologize for the comment, after facing criticism for prejudice against a minority group. In September 2011, Cryos International, one of the world's largest sperm banks, announced that it would no longer accept donations from red-haired men due to low demand from women seeking artificial insemination

Red hair festivals

There has been an annual Redhead Day festival in the Netherlands that attracts red-haired participants from around the world. The festival was held in Breda, a city in the south east of the Netherlands, prior to 2019, when it moved to Tilsburg. It attracts participants from over 80 different countries. The international event began in 2005, when Dutch painter Bart Rouwenhorst decided he wanted to paint 15 redheads. Today, the festival includes a number of activities. The Irish Redhead Convention, held in late August in County Cork since 2011, claims to be a global celebration and attracts people from several continents. The celebrations include crowning the ginger King and Queen, competitions for the best red eyebrows and most freckles per square inch, orchestral concerts and carrot throwing competitions. A smaller red-hair day festival is held since 2013 by the UK's anti bullying alliance in London, with the aim of instilling pride in having red-hair. Since 2014, a red-hair event is held in Israel, at Kibbutz Gezer (Carrot), held for the local Israeli red hair community, including both Ashkenazi and Mizrahi red-heads. However, the number of attendees has to be restricted due to the risk of rocket attacks, leading to anger in the red-hair community. The organizers state; "The event is a good thing for many redheads, who had been embarrassed about being redheads before." The first and only festival for red heads in the United States is called “Redhead Days Chicago” and was launched in 2015. Held in Highwood, Illinois, Redhead Days draws participants from across the United States. The festival that takes place in Chicago is similar to the original festival that is held in Breda, Netherlands. A festival to celebrate the red-haired people is held annually in Izhevsk (Russia), the capital of Udmurtia, since 2004. MC1R Magazine is a publication for red-haired people worldwide, based in Hamburg, Germany

Religious and mythological traditions

Mary Magdalene is commonly portrayed with long red hair, as in Mary Magdalene (Sandys) this 1859 painting by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys

In ancient Egypt red hair was associated with the deity Set and Ramesses II had it. In the Iliad, Achilles' hair is described as usually translated as blonde, or golden but sometimes as red or tawny. His son Neoptolemus also bears the name Pyrrhus, a possible reference to his own red hair. The Norse god Thor is usually described as having red hair. The Hebrew word usually translated "ruddy" or "reddish-brown" was used to describe both Esau and David. Early artistic representations of Mary Magdalene usually depict her as having long flowing red hair, although a description of her hair color was never mentioned in the Bible, and it is possible the color is an effect caused by pigment degradation in the ancient paint. Judas Iscariot is also represented with red hair in Spanish culture and in the works of William Shakespeare, reinforcing the negative stereotype. Some Christians, especially in Spanish speaking countries, regard redheads as the devil in the flesh. Christianity and popular perception has a big part to play in this and where the beginnings of the idea came from.

In particular, Michelangelo’s ‘Temptation and Expulsion of Adam and Eve’ initially portrays Eve as a level-headed brunette before she lures Adam down the road of temptation and damnation, and is then later miraculously depicted as a redhead, seductive and suspicious. Judas Iscariot, famously known for his betrayal of Christ, very much fuels the fire of redheads being deceitful, too. In nearly all depictions of him, his hair color is noted and commented on as red. This link between red hair and deceit can also be traced back to the tales of the headstrong and disobedient Lilith, who quarreled with Adam and seduced men in their sleep. She is regularly portrayed as a bewitching redhead, having mythical and seductive powers to match.

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