Redheads are (Sheepishly) Organizing a Civil Rights Movement

Redheads are starting a movement to combat the everyday discrimination they face. But instead of a shot heard round the world, their revolution is starting out with a giggle.

A shot from the REDHOT exhibition at the BOSI gallery in NYC. Thomas Knights

From “Kick a Ginger Day,” on September 20, to the ease with which they are derogatorily referred to as “gingers” in everyday interactions, the casual discrimination of redheads is widespread and commonplace.

Now, with movements raising awareness of the blatant discrimination of redheads, "gingers" are, if sheepishly, starting to stand up for themselves.

London-based photographer Thomas Knights debuted REDHOT, a collection of portraits of red headed men, September 3 at the BOSI gallery in New York City and it is quickly gaining international attention. Hundreds of photos of redheaded men, shirtless and flexing, are captioned with personal stories of bullying and discrimination. His project didn’t start out as a social movement, and he laughs at the prospect. He says it has grown into that as redheaded men from all over connect with the stories and feel empowered to address their everyday social battles.

“If all ginger people came from a certain country or culture, I think it would [more widely] be called racism,” Knights says. I’s a technicality that it’s not. It’s discrimination based on appearance.”

Knights’ exhibition is only of men; amongst redhead rights activists, in which there is a small and very interconnected circle, it is agreed that the discrimination against redheads is specific to men. Scott Harris is one of those in the close-knit circle: he is a documentary filmmaker who produced “Being Ginger,” a 2013 film about his troubles finding a date among the small niche of women who have a thing for gingers. “Being Ginger” starts out playfully, with Harris roaming the streets of Scotland, laughing awkwardly during confrontations with women who explain why they find redheaded men unattractive.

“They do have a place in society not one that I would date,” says one woman Harris interviews. She goes on to describe the specifics on what she found unattractive in redheads: freckles, light eyelashes, and shares childhood stories when school kids and teachers would collectively poke fun at redheaded kids. “Everybody just finds the ginger thing a bit funny.”

The red headed comedian who organized a “Ginger Pride Walk” in Edinburgh last year, Shawn Hitchins, thinks it’s funny too. In his routine, Hitchins self-deprecates over his red hair and said he had never intended on being an advocate for ginger pride. But after an interview where he made a joke about organizing a pride march for redheads, the idea caught on.

It started off as me making a joke to a critic and I had no idea the reaction it would get… by the time I had got off the subway there, [the idea for a Ginger Pride Walk] had gone viral. People were saying ‘You’re the guy that’s here to save the gingers.’”

Even though the biggest advocates for raising awareness of the discrimination and misconceptions against redheads didn’t intend on being so, the virality of their projects shows there is a need. The struggle is real: studies have shown that redheads are more likely to be perceived as unattractive. Studies have also found unattractive people are less likely to get hired, more likely to be bullied at work, more likely to be jailed, less likely to make as much money and even less likely to find a good deal on a mortgage as attractive people.

”We’ve been conditioned to see ginger guys as the undesirable character. It sets the precedent that they’re unattractive,” Knights explains.

REDHOT by Thomas Knights
With a sheepish bunch of leaders reacting to a very real problem, will the misconceptions against redheads ever really be quashed?

Angelique Harris, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Marquette University, says that a movement to change the perception of redheads is vague because there aren’t very many, and there aren’t any formal institutions discriminating against them.

“There are no laws against them, they aren’t being kicked out of their houses...” she says. “Their level of oppression is very different.”

Dr. Harris says many redheads may not see that issue as that important because it’s not an experience that all men with red hair are experiencing.

“In terms of a large-scale movement, I doubt that would ever happen,” she says.

But Knights says he absolutely has already seen a change in the perception of redheaded men in response to REDHOT.

“[The positive reaction to redheaded men] is something we didn’t realize was going to be quite so prevalent,” Knights says.“When you show they’re heroic and sexy and masculine, it flips a switch.”