Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Red-Hair Bullying

My mother, a high-spirited, intelligent and expressive woman, often told of how she hated her bright red hair when she was a young child in elementary school. She was teased so much about her hair she avoided doing anything in school that would attract notice. Although she completed all assignments on time and knew the content, she chose not to contribute or solicit information in class. The little red-haired girl even timed her walk to school so she would arrive just as the bell was ringing and wouldn’t be subjected to early morning playground teasing.

Imagine my surprise to learn just this week that in England, excessive teasing of red-haired people, whether children at school or adults in the workplace, is called Gingerism. (Mother’s hair was much redder than ginger.) According to international lawyers Pinsent Masons, unchecked gingerism in the workplace can be considered bullying and can become a legal issue.

From a cross-cultural perspective, the practice of picking on people with red hair is thought to be a particularly British trait. Interestingly, Mother was of English heritage, but the community in which she grew up was of German descent. Obviously, globalization is not a new phenomenon—it just occurs faster now.

Final note: By the time Mother entered high school, she had overcome her shyness and no longer minded some light-hearted teasing. In fact, in the students’ notes of her high school yearbooks, she is frequently called Red.

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