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on being ginger

"Only a ginger can call another ginger ginger." Tim Michin 'Prejudice'

A red-haired child's mother corrected me saying ginger is a spice not a colour. The word, it seems, has become a curse. But the hair colour isn't red or orange or yellow or copper or auburn, the colour is ginger but use the word carefully. All hair from strawberry blonde to deep red lies on the ginger spectrum but I can say that because I am a ginger!

What’s it like being ginger?

Cue lots of abuse and online trolling. Gingers are common fodder for idiots. Gingers, they tell us, are stupid, ugly or degenerate. Its a recessive gene so by extension we are mutants in the bad sense. Not in the mutant hero, super-powered, X-men style mutants. If we could do that stuff no one would mess with us. All we can do is look great and reflect the sun with our porcelain skin.

Scotland has the highest percentage of ginger people in the world. Recently it was announced that Edinburgh is the world capital of ginger hair with 40% of the population carrying the gene. Only 13% actually have the blessed hair so we are still a small minority and a group that needs documented.

Stories tend to be clinical and focus on the genetic basis of the colour, its impending extinction (not true by the way) or the enduring cultural persecution. I want to build on that and make this personal. This story is asking ginger people in Scotland what its like to live with the rarest hair colour on planet earth.

Heirs of historical hair

Scotland is synonymous with ginger hair. The 1st century historian Tacitus referred to the people in this land as “red-haired”. Clearly he wasn't ginger. In the Scottish National galleries I noticed paintings of a ginger Jesus and Mary (see these examples by Bottichelli, Poussin and Raphael ). I asked a member of staff why Jesus had ginger hair but they didnt know. Perhaps they were bought by patriotic Scots?  I have been told a number of theories- its because the paint pigment degrades or its a visual trick to draw the eye or its a crown of gold to show symbolic importance. 

That moment triggered this project. I am interested in asking what's so special, or not, about being ginger in Scotland today. 

Be part of the story

"I’d say I’m British because dad is Irish, mum is Scottish and I was born in England. I have lived in Scotland for nine years. I don’t know what I am!"  
Caitlin, 20, Dumfries 


"People ask why is your hair that colour? Do you drink a lot of Irn-Bru? Mum says its very helpful to find me in a crowd. No-one in my school year has red hair which means I could get in trouble because I am easy to spot." 
Stewart, 9, East Kilbride

"I describe my hair as highland auburn but it only appears in my beard. A few mates have it and our dog- Pixie the destroyer. She is a rehome and was going to be put down. I wanted a dog to go with my beard!"    
Dez, 31, Rothes

"Luckily, I have never had a problem with bullying and it was more a problem with my mum. She didn't like two girls with red hair and kept it short if possible. “Really?”, she would say “you can’t wear that colour, it will clash with your hair!”   
Kirsty, 45, Perth


"People usually say we have a fiery temper but I have always been the opposite, level-headed and calm and friendly. My experience is most red heads are quite placid, keeping their heads below the parapet."  
Davie, 43, Glasgow

We are looking for more gingers to be part of this story. If you are ginger and live in Scotland there are sessions happening across the country in the coming months. Get in touch: hello@kierandodds.com

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