Friday is “Kick a Ginger Day”. Naturally, as a ginger myself, I’m scared. I received the Facebook event notification earlier this week. I didn’t know the person who invited me; she had sent the invite to everyone on her friend list, which isn’t a surprise. Hatred of redheads seems to be a growing fad, and while it is, historically speaking, nothing new, the origin of this particular upswing in ginger-bashing can be precisely traced to a single TV show.
The “Ginger Kids” episode of South Park, which first aired in 2005, brought with it a slew of fresh redhead stereotypes for a generation that had never even heard the term “ginger” before. And while the episode is extremely funny, the campaign against redheads which it spawned is anything but. You’ve probably heard the gingerists’ mantras by now. Gingers are hideous. Gingers can’t go out in the sunlight. Gingers have no souls. We’re basically like vampires without the fangs or the Edward Cullen sex appeal. And even though, after being transformed into a befreckled redhead, the already soul-less Eric Cartman sees the error in his gingerphobic ways, this lessen has been lost on viewers. In a culture where ethnic humor is taboo and racist or sexist jokes end in campus-wide discussions, gingers have become the comedic target du jour.
I have been reeling from all the extra attention. Before college, my hair never provoked anything worse than curiosity (unless you consider “Ron Weasley” an insult). I even received regular compliments from hairstylists and old people. I tried my best to dispel the “redheads are going extinct” rumor (insulting as both a redhead and a bio major), and I lamented when redhead celebrities like Lindsay Lohan fell victim to Hollywood’s obsession with dyed blonde hair. Life was simpler before South Park.
Then, as the years following the “Ginger Kids” episode passed, the jokes started to pick up. Friends would ask me if I was a day walker. Drunken passerbys accused me of lacking a soul. On mischief night, I got hit by an egg as someone in a passing car shouted “Gingers suck!” I wasn’t really surprised by the negative attention; I always knew I was different, and I was almost surprised it took so long. I just figured the whole fad would blow over in a couple years.
It hasn’t. In fact, my roommates have started calling me “ginge” on a daily basis. They complain about “maximum redhead capacity” when I bring red-haired friends over. Even a fellow redhead roommate has turned to the dark side: his staple comeback is to call me a dirty ginger, his self-hating ways necessary to survive in a gingerphobic house. They’re just joking, they tell me, and to be honest, I believe them. But what about the person who started the “Kick a Ginger Day” Facebook event? Or the thousands who intend to “attend?” I can’t be certain about anyone. Who can tell when a series of harmless jokes, unchecked by media attention, historical context or community support groups, will become an all-out, Cartman-style crusade against redheads? How do I know my shins are safe?
Despite this slippery slope, there may be a bright future for redheads. In my conversations with fellow “gingers” this year, I’ve felt a real sense of solidarity. We know that we have to stick together in this scary world. Others have reached out to help. A thoughtful individual has renamed Friday “International Hug a Ginger Day” to compete with its kicking cousin (which has since been removed from Facebook), and I intend to celebrate this more peaceful alternative. If you want, I promise to accept your hugs with open arms.