Behind the Edinburgh Fringe Festival's Ginger Pride March lies a serious point

Despite the prevalence of ‘hot gingers’ in our culture from Prince Harry and Damian Lewis to Isla Fisher there is real abuse, and at its root a suspicion of otherness

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The Independent Online

I know you don’t want some privileged journalist, out of the domestic news agenda loop, banging on about holiday ‘reflections’ or forcing a link to the agenda of their holiday destination: Berlusconi, a man more sinned against than sinning? Anyone?

But I crave a small indulgence, because it’s not really a holiday tale. Last week in Sicily, a place where you can spend weeks not seeing anyone other than the indigenous black-haired, dark-eyed, saturnine population, beyond the African hawkers of fake designer goods, there was a ‘ginger moment’.

Two red-haired female Scots were taking a ‘selfie,’ which we could see was their ruse to sneak a shot of an extravagantly-dressed Italian mother and daughter combination with dyed red hair themselves. They laughed knowingly as they clocked us clocking them and we got chatting. They were drawing a crowd.

They loved Sicily, they said, but felt a little conspicuous. People would shout at them in the street, stop them to take a photo, or even touch their hair. It was like those  apocryphal tales of white Victorian explorers being treated as deities. Well, actually, since the Middle Ages Italians have regarded le rosse superstitiously as children of the devil, or witches.

OK, the women were ‘babes’, and partly subject to the stereotypical summertime attentions of on-heat Italian lotharios, but it got us thinking about ‘difference’ in an unexpected way, as my daughters told me ginger friends of theirs had been abused back home.

And then, we flew back to news of the semi-tongue-in-cheek Ginger Pride Walk at the Edinburgh Festival. Redheads braved the Fringe to demonstrate in a ‘fun’ way against those who mock and otherwise abuse gingers.

Apparently, Scotland is home to one-fifth of the world’s ginger population. Some 13 per cent of Scots have red hair, as opposed to under 1 per cent of the world population. Even more Scots carry the red-headed gene meaning two non-redheads can have a ginger child.

Behind the march’s self-deprecating humour lies a serious point. Despite the prevalence of ‘hot gingers’ in our culture from Prince Harry to Damian Lewis, Karen Gillan to Isla Fisher there is real abuse – ranging from online trolling to physical violence.

It is, at root, the same issue as the more widespread problems of racism or homophobia; a suspicion of ‘otherness’. A less harmful fascination with that otherness expresses itself through TV shows about ‘difference’ - be they about obesity, dwarfism, gypsies or toffs. We should beware them becoming ‘freakshows’.

Despite the odd ‘bongo-bongo land’ bigot, I’m proud of Britons for being more tolerant than many of people’s differences, and for our multi-cultural, liberal, open-minded society. Some of you redheads may beg to disagree.