Not Funny To Ask If The Carpet Matches The Drapes - How Redheads Represent Our Nation

Photo by Sandy Roethler

Photo by Sandy Roethler

This post, written by a good friend, is a unique take on things and will challenge you to think differently. Please, whatever you read today, tomorrow or the next day, take a moment to read THIS in its entirety. It's a perspective worth paying attention to. Thank you.

(Mind you, the impression I always had of Sandy was that she was a fun, well-liked girl with a great sense of humor and that all groups of kids and teachers all throughout her school career thought she was awesome - and yet, she has contrary a story to tell...and ever story is worth acknowledging).

On Kicking a Ginger

By Sandy Roethler
As a very young child I was tormented for the color of my hair. I was called “red-haired monster” and “freak,” and other kids ran away from me on the playground yelling for their friends to do the same. I was heartbroken by age 6.

In high school, boys thought it was hilarious to ask me about the color of my pubic hair. (“Does the carpet match the drapes” would be the tamest version, although that happened far past high school too.) A group of my male “friends” called me Red Fur Burger as a nickname I did not want. To my face. In public. A few used to even chant it in class, in front of the teacher, assuming the teacher didn’t get the reference or wouldn’t intervene. They were right. It was humiliating.

People have asked me my whole life why I don’t have eyebrows (I do; they are clear to blond), told me I would be so much prettier if I wore makeup (thank you, you would be prettier if you kept your mouth shut), or pointed out how ugly my freckles are (they were flat wrong about that – freckles are adorable). I’ve been compared to Bozo the clown about a million times. Nothing builds a young woman’s confidence more than being physically compared to a creepy clown man.

Multiple times people have chased me down, calling me by the wrong name, only to be shocked to find out I’m *not* their friend Andrea. Because there are so few of us, we all must be your one red-headed friend. It’s hard to say. We all look alike.

I have to endure hearing a tiny distance between two objects described as a “red cunt hair” apart. Or listen when people say things like, “beaten like a red-headed stepchild.”

Complete strangers have shoved their hands into my hair all the way to the scalp without asking. One said, after realizing that she was literally molesting me, “It’s ok; I’m a hairdresser.” I wish I had had the presence of mind to say, “I’m glad you’re not a gynecologist.”

Many, many strangers have asked me if my hair was “real.” I want to ask, “Are all your teeth real?” When I stare at them, they clarify: did I color it? Was it a perm? These are not friends of mine. Just random weirdos. Asking if I color my hair. Because that’s how you make friends at the library/grocery store/bus stop. Even more people have stated that I must have a temper because of my hair color. Ummmm, I don’t think that’s the reason. Your questions, maybe.

I cannot begin to count the number of grown men who have giggled – or worse, came on to me, in I’m sure what they thought was a super impressive and original fashion – asking me about my sex life or informing me that I must love sex, be promiscuous, or be great in bed because of my red hair. Several have even asked my husband if it’s true that redheads are sluts. He is a peaceful man, but I might have decked them if the situation were reversed.

I routinely hear “jokes” about “Gingers” and am told by the Interwebs, repeatedly, that “everyone hates Gingers.” (Judging by my interactions with men of all ethnicities and races, I am here to say, no, no they don’t. See above. Or maybe they hate Gingers but just love the idea of kinky sex with strangers?) People tell me I’m too sensitive and that “Kick a Ginger Day” is just funny, despite the fact that redheads have really been kicked, by strangers, sometimes to the point of hospitalization and death. Oh, I get it. Hilarious!

Redheads have been tortured, burned at the stake and drowned as witches – some estimate the number at 45,000.

Did any part of my story disgust you? Did you doubt any of the experiences I just described? Did you feel uncomfortable because maybe you did some of that to me or other redheads? That is not the point of this essay. I am good now. I am proud of my red hair. I hated it for a long time, but now I love it.
Here’s what didn’t happen to me*. I was never pulled over because I have red hair. I’ve never been frisked when I was the one who called the police. 
I was never turned down for a job because my name sounded too red (even though my last name literally means “red”).

Even though only 2-4% of the US population has red hair, I have never been afraid to walk out in public amongst the blonds and brunettes.

I’m never approached by the police in the local park when I am playing Pokemon Go with my enormous adult son – who sometimes looks quite intimidating and disheveled – even though we see them approach small groups of young Black boys who are minding their own business.

Nobody in the last 250 years or so has been lynched for witchcraft. Nobody calls me faggot, even though the word is used because gay people were burned alongside of witches. (Faggot = bundle of kindling sticks; cute, right?).

My child received special education services instead of being expelled for bad behavior. (Though believe me that was all an enormous struggle and will have to be the subject of a different essay.)

Regular, nice people don’t say to me, “Oh, I don’t think that [abuse] was about your red hair…” or other garbage that invalidates my experience.

Nobody assumed I was the janitor. Ever

When my son wears his hood up all day long out in public, I never fear that people will confuse him for a “thug” and shoot him. I’ve never had to have a conversation with my child about how to interact with the police, in case he is stopped for, you know, crossing the street wrong. He was approached by the police for this, after someone called being concerned for HIS welfare. The police were wonderful to him. Even though he is a giant person, easily confused and riled up, and, again, wears his hood up. All. The. Time. (I don’t think it’s to cover the red hair, thanks for asking.)  I can say hello to the random strangers that I see while walking to work, without fear of later being accused of defiling them.

I can go to Irish Fest (even though I’m very little Irish) without people telling me I’m a reverse racist. They even wave Irish flags there; nobody ever complains even though they complain a lot if the Mexican flag is waved at a Latino event. 
Even though Judas was allegedly a redhead, nobody maligns all redheads as an anti-Christian (or anti-Semite) terrorist group.

I hope by now you see where I’m going with this. Yes, I had some pretty harsh things said to me. I don’t believe any of it was due to hatred. Neither is racism due to hatred. I did NOT suffer racism. I did NOT suffer systemic, invisible oppression. 
Remember your reaction to the first part of my story. Framing it totally as things that happened because of my hair and skin color, can you see where parts are horrible, sad, disgusting? Can you see even a little bit what People of Color, Jewish people, gay and transgendered people, or people with disabilities go through?

They are not rallying because they want your pity or apologies. They don’t want to take anything away from you. They don’t think their lives are better or more important than yours. They just want you to see your privilege and help dismantle the brutal racist and sexist and able-ist systems that affect all of us.

*I’m sure my examples in the second part of my essay will strike some marginalized people as patently ridiculous -- or not nearly graphic enough. Please pardon my assumptions, ignorance and privilege.

And if any non-marginalized people/non-allies out there try to quote only part of my story trying to prove that I think redheads "have it just as bad" or “See, all people get picked on, get over it,” then may God and the Internet smite you. That is not the fucking point.


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