“Is it ginger?!”, screamed someone I know, as she gave the final push in the delivery of her firstborn a few months ago.
As the wife and sister-in-law of redheads, I found this funny. Yes, the colour of her offspring’s hair was more important to her than knowing the gender or, in fact, if the baby she had been carrying for nine months was in perfect health. But ultimately, this was her child – redhead or not – and if the offspring had turned out to have even a glimmer of copper on its head, it would merely be a humorous story to tell in years to come.
I tell you this to give some context. I’m sure no one needs reminding that ginger hair has somehow become synonymous with evil; an epitome of ugliness, a fate worse than death. Yet perhaps the media needs reminding that a singular taunt in the playground, whilst undoubtedly unpleasant, is magnified ten-fold when a reputable news source perpetuates the dreadful stereotype:
Being ginger is both something to make an example of, and, more seriously, avoid.
But that’s exactly what a number of media sources did this week, when they reported that ‘parents to be have the chance to find out whether they could have children with red hair’.
On reading the headline initially I was horrified, as images of heavily pregnant women desperate to know if they, indeed, carried the devil incarnate, rushed to pick up a test. But on deeper inspection, I found that although this is true, it just one of many parts of the Who Do You Think You Are exhibition exploring DNA which is to take place at the end of February.
Yet those sources who have reported on it have flagged it up as the main, and only news feature. Yes, some casually mention the three-day exhibition, but it is clear to see that the only important thing to come out of it is the fortune-telling test into whether or not you will help perpetuate a race of redheads. I’m not convinced that the test itself, although claiming to be an investigation of pure interest into why ‘Britain is the most red-headed nation, per capita, on Earth’ and ending its pitch with “we aim to celebrate Britain as the world's Red-Headed Nation” is the most responsible of tests, taking into account the very real, very serious nature of prejudice which is weighted against it.
But it is the reporting of, flagging up, pointing at and singling out of the media’s coverage which, by perpetuating the stereotype, is most worrying of all – and, perhaps more seriously, will have advertised the otherwise innocent test as if it is a screening measure.
“Is it ginger?!”, screamed the media? Somehow not as funny.