Can we wash away redhead bigotry, please?

... asks Matthew Bell, as a disinterested, only slightly sandy, observer
Click to follow
The Independent Online

If you're still eating your breakfast, you may want to look away now. For I bring news from the world's largest sperm bank, Cryos in Denmark. Its director has announced they are to reject donations from redheads. They are full to capacity – 70 litres, if you must know – and there's no room for any more donations from gingers.

No, I don't want to think about it either. But this is serious: according to Ole Schou, customers are getting pickier, and the redhead supply is outstripping demand. Nobody, it seems, wants a ginger baby.

It is, on the face of it, outrageous. Substitute the word ginger for any of the following: gay, black, Welsh – and you get the picture.

Comic musician Tim Minchin made the point succinctly in a song in which he plays with the jumbled up letters "a couple of Gs, an R and an E, and I and an N", and only later do you realise he's not talking about the N word.

Perhaps more astonishing is the shoulder-shrugging indifference with which the news has been met. A recent poll found that 67 per cent of people think anti-ginger sentiment is a form of racism. But I have yet to hear of any protest riots erupting on the streets of Copenhagen. Peter Tatchell, who can be relied on to take up arms against even the slightest injustice, is unusually quiet this weekend.

It's not as if the sperm bank story is even the only example of gingerism in the news. Much more poignant was the case of the baby seal found in Russia, starving and abandoned because it was covered in ginger hair. Its parents and siblings all had lovely black hair, and instantly shunned the little fella when he popped out. Not even the club-wielding fur-dealers would touch it.

Of course, gingerism is nothing new. It probably dates back to the anti-Irish sentiment of the 19th century or before, when the Irish were regarded as ethnically inferior. But, even though we now know this not to be true, there's no sign of gingerism dying out.

The internet is awash with jokes such as "What's the difference between a terrorist and a redhead?" "You can negotiate with a terrorist." And that's at the tame end.

It's true that some redheads happen to be slightly hot-headed (Rebekah Brooks, Chris Evans). But as with all stereotypes, there are as many exceptions to disprove the rule, such as pixie popstar La Roux, or Lily Cole. In any case, Rebekah Brooks apparently helps her hair with a bit of dye.

But before we all set about boycotting Danish bacon, it's worth considering whether the sperm bank ban is a cause or effect. Cryos is just a business like any other, responding to the demands of market forces. Who can blame their customers for taking advantage of what science has to offer?

Just imagine you are a client, coughing up over £300 per visit. You are seated in a windowless waiting room, flicking through hair swatches. Here are the blondes, ranging from pale metallic Swede to lustrous golden honey. Here are the browns, from a pale nutty tan to locks of sleek jet black. Given the choice, how likely is it that you would plump for the one colour guaranteed to come with freckles and a lifetime of low-level bullying?

At least, that's what I'm told. Not being ginger, I've no idea what they go through. I imagine the comment editor was looking for an outsider's perspective when he asked me to tackle this subject.It is true that, now and again, I meet some short-sighted idiot who mistakes my auburn thatch for a bag of carrots. But the fact is, I have strawberry blond hair. And as there's no room for a picture on this page , you'll just have to take my word for it. And what's wrong with being ginger anyway?