How Americans Can Help Brits Get Over Their Anti-Ginger Bias

Ginger celebs who’ve crossed over to America: Damian Lewis, Karen Gillan, and Rupert Grint. (Photos: AP)

Ever wondered why it took an American TV show to elevate Londoner Damian Lewis to the post of sex god? In his real-life homeland, having an orange mop is a bigger impediment to perceived attractiveness than bad breath and facial warts. This, despite Britain boasting more red heads per capita than any other country. Our irrational hatred means most Brit actors sporting a rusty fuzz — particularly men — are doomed to play goofy sidekicks, creeps and other roles that don’t require obvious sex appeal. Just look at Rupert Grint and Simon Pegg. Even Doctor Who’s stunning Karen Gillan is considered more fan-boy fodder than mainstream beauty.

Americans are, correctly, shocked and appalled by this British prejudice. U.S. folk will hate on you for many illogical reasons but never for being red headed. Here, sable-locked parents seem genuinely delighted when they pop out a ginger. And should their flame-haired kids grow up wanting to be actors, they’re not going to be scuppered by red-headed hatred. Hot gingers from Marcia Cross to Lindsay Lohan have been trumpeted as beddable, in no small part because of their ginger hair. Others, like Cynthia Nixon and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, dyed their tresses orange to boost their allure.

Like a lot of Brits, I grew up hearing supposedly right-thinking, genocide-spurning adults riff merrily on the topic of drowning babies born with a carrot top. A redhead I went to school with endured years of paper airplanes to the head and mocking inquiries about the color of his “down there hair.” Had he been raised in America, I suspect his peers would have picked on him because of his squeaky voice, not his orange fur. Ginger British girls have it just as bad. English model Lily Cole has spoken about her own in-school teasing, as has Karen Gillan.

Alas, hair color harassment isn’t limited to kids in the classroom. This January, a Birmingham man was severely assaulted by strangers simply for having a red top. Grownup gingers don’t get any respite from jeering Brits — even if they’re pretty and famous. American actress Jessica Chastain recently told GQ how she received truss-related flack from holidaying Brits while filming in Thailand: “You Brits are usually so mean to your redheads. Why is that? In America it’s seen as a good thing… I’d be walking down the street and people — British people — would stop the car and scream, ‘Ginger!’ at me.”

Why do we despise redheads? Check the internet and it’ll tell you Brits’ Anglo-on-orange issues stem from our hatred of our Scandinavian invaders, the Vikings — purportedly a people dense with gingers. Whether or not our deep-down loathing of interloping Danes led us down this road, it’s time to stop bullying defenseless reds. I wouldn’t normally champion the U.S. as a giant Betty Ford clinic for prejudice, but actually I believe that spending time in the U.S. can help you quit your red hair-hating ways. I’m even thinking of petitioning the White House to introduce a new category of visa specifically for hounded British gingers and gingerphobes in “recovery.” Only with America’s help can we beat this thing.

What has been your experience with gingerism? Tell us below:

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • Sticky-n-Sweet

    I think it has more to do with red hair being perceived as an “Irish” thing, and Brits definitely not wanting to be connected to that.

    • expatmum

      As someone from the north of England I was about to say it probably had something to do with the Scots. (Not that I care either way about gingers.)

    • Grace

      Except that the Irish are just as brutal about it. A dear friend of mine who grew up in Dublin was viciously bullied growing up for having red hair. When she moved here she was so surprised and delighted that it wasn’t at all a big deal here.

    • marn

      Red hair originated with scandinavian (read: viking) raiders, rapers and invaders. It wasn’t common in the various native Celts or later Roman and Germanic invaders. While Anglo-Saxon brutality toward the Irish is well-established, it wasn’t based on hair color as far as I’m aware. So maybe it’s more about the Anglos being bitter about having been beaten at their own game.

      • Isadorica

        Then how do you explain Boudicca being thought of as a red head?

  • Lyds

    Absolute nonsense! South Park came up with kick-a-ginger-day!

    • An American

      It wasn’t a serious commentary on American behavior.

  • MontanaRed

    In our family, red hair is considered a badge of the tribe. It’s a coveted sign of the pedigree (in a jokey way).

    I also find very few people forget meeting you if you’re a redhead. No hiding in the crowd!

  • Sean

    I live in america born and raised, I know for a fact Americans would bully anyone for being a ginger and its mostly has nothing to do with them being ginger it just has to do with people trying to put down other people to make themselfs feel better

  • Chrissy

    I’m american and have dated 4 gingers and married one and have been married to him for 27 years, no anti-ginger sentiments here!

  • Janet Smith

    My daughter is a red-head who married and red-head and has three red-haired children. They can’t go out together without people on the street stopping them, delighted to see so much ginger at once. Strangers take pictures of them. I don’t see a lot of hatred going on here in the US. It’s such a novelty that Americans are attracted to it.

    • Amelia Brown

      Same. Both of my parents, my brother, and sister all are gingers. I got off. I’m blonde blonde blonde. And let me tell you, blonde eyebrows are such an inconvenience! No one can tell when I am sassing them from afar! A luxury afforded to the darker-haired, I am afraid.

    • Aj

      I would take a picture too! With the caption: “Me with the Weasley Family.”

  • arhnio

    Your dear queen Elizabeth (I) was a ginger! HAW! Take that, Anglos!

  • kate

    i have very long red hair, and where most people probably don’t care either way, there are some who love red hair and covet it. sometimes someone will stop me mid-sentence to exclaim how much they love my hair. it’s not unusual for guys to have a ‘thing’ for red haired women. when i was in london a couple years ago and was passed on the street by a random londoner who called me “gingette,” i was taken aback, but also thought it was pretty hilarious. before south park’s ‘kick a ginger day,’ i never heard of any anti-redhead sentiment in america at all. if it’s there, it’s not widespread, and american media and fashion industry just love red hair. i admit i’m proud of my locks, but i do see the difference in attitude in britain having more to do with perceptions they might have that americans don’t have (ie. the scandinavians).

  • biggears

    in America they call them red heads which they not orange never been red before. I never grew up being told bad things about people with orange hair except that they had paler skin and burn easy.

    • gn

      It’s a damn sight closer to red than to the colour of any ginger I’ve ever seen. Ginger is usually pale yellow.

  • Isadorica

    AS an Anglo-American from a large family of redheads- from ginger to auburn-I never found overt prejudice directed at me in either the UK or the US. Perhaps a few taunts as a child in school, but I think the gingerism seems to go toward men more.

  • Carolyn

    Mom and brother and 2 uncles and niece are all redheads, and my brother was teased for his red hair all during his childhood, here in the USA, he is 47 now and everyone calls him Red.

  • Alison

    I dye my hair red and tell me I would love to meet a red headed man to give me red headed children. But to say American children don’t tease their peers about it is unfortunately false. A few years ago I saw a boy on TV talking about how he gets tormented all the time for having red hair.

  • Viv Vyle

    While at school I was teased for my red hair, so much so that I secretly bought a hair wash to take the colour out, hoping my mum would never find the empty bottle.Now the colour has faded and I SO wish I had that beautiful hair, and regret ever trying to get rid of it. My niece has such intense red hair that her teacher said it is one of “the wonders of the world”. Red headed people are picked on because they are different (as in lots of minorities) and/or that the attackers are jealous. It has been said that red hair will expire in about 2020, so be proud of your red hair, and know that you were one of the few.

  • Lorenzo Faberini


  • Caomhin Baldy Heid K-MacaGhobh

    I was bullied at school…I had a mass of curly, unruly red hair & battled throuighout my life with idiots who thought it was ok to mouth off abouit the colour. Then I joined the military…& punched the first prat who called me a stupid name ( I’m not proud…But it did stop the crap for awhile) Then I hit on a wonderfuil idea…Call everyone who called me ginge by the colour of their hair…It soon stopped when I started to call people blondie, blackie, brownie or mousie!) They actually looked startled & even hurt! Then the ultimate horror I started to go bald…Now I’m 6 foot 2 inches tall, 18 stone, bald, tattoo’d & peirced…Mentikon my shaved head & I don’t bloody care!

  • Voltaire7

    As a life-long fan of redheads, I wish I had known about this prejudice in my younger days. So many bereft gingers to comfort.

  • marmaladefille

    As a child in the U.S., I was teased and picked on and ridiculed endlessly for having red hair. But honestly, if it hadn’t been that, it would have been something else. Being different gets you into trouble at school, whether it’s your name, your hair, your IQ, your height…doesn’t matter. As an adult, I get compliments. I am delighted to have red hair. It’s different, it’s part of my family background, and I think it’s beautiful. I will be sad when it fades, as it inevitably will.

    • BookLover

      Same here, funnily enough as a teen when we moved to England for a few years, I actually got a respite from the teasing about my hair colour. Unfortunately, I have not been able to learn to love, or even just not hate my hair colour. I think all the teasing took it’s toll one me

    • Birdie

      It is the opposite here where I live. If you act different, or try your best to be original and individual, people compliment you and smile. You’re teased for following trends or liking American pop instead.

  • mompea

    I wouldn’t say gingers are more accepted in the US. Fertility clinics will no longer accept ginger sperm donors as ab attempt to eliminate the hair color.

  • Sabrina W

    1) Then why does the Doctor always want to be ginger?
    2)The ginger-hate is actually spreading here to America. A girl with red hair does something stupid? “It’s cuz she’s ginger.” And that’s in Oklahoma. We even say that gingers don’t have souls. Actually, as I browse this site, I’m realizing that many British things are slowly making their ways across the pond.

  • Bunny

    I… had no idea! Red heads are so sexy. Look at Micheal C. Hall with his red highlighted hair. And don’t forget Jessica Rabbit! Kinda dumb to attack red heads I’d think. Not their fault and they shouldn’t have to dye their hair. Our differences are what make us beautiful.

  • randomamericanopinion

    It’s not uncommon for a ginger in America to be called soulless. Although it is sometimes said jokingly or endearingly, unless they’re at least a little famous, most gingers are seen as unattractive (especially males). When talking to my friend about another friend (whom she’d never met), I happened to mention he was a ginger. She made a sound of disgust and discredited anything I said about him with ‘but he doesn’t have a soul so…’

    Although I would say Americans might not go as far as shouting ‘Ginger!’ from the street. ^^

  • Simon

    There is no ginger problem in Britain. We just like to joke, mock and tease others! Is all friendly stuff rather than hostile. Really don’t think it has anything to do with the Vikings. They left the majority of the country about 800 years ago. I think enough time has passed for us to not associate gingers with marauding Viking hoards!

  • kelly

    My little brother and I both have red hair. People’s usual reaction to seeing us together something like “oh you have gorgeous hair”. But in the past year or so, people have screamed ginger at us from passing america. Its only happened about four times, but each is a painful experiance. The most recent was just a couple of days ago when we were at a playground. I was never bulied in school for my hair and neither has my brother so far. Could this be due to the increase of british culture in America?

  • jonny

    In America, where we have so many races and nationalities that make us different, who has time to tell the difference between pasty white redheads and pasty white blonds?

  • Estrellita

    The notion of an American helping anyone get over any bias is laughable.

    • Ron

      Perhaps we could introduce you to irony while you’re here.

  • Sir Hate-a-ging

    It’s been scientifically proven that, aside from smelling like one or a combination of; fox piss, urine, Jaffa cakes, crushed up digestive biscuits or off milk, gingers are 237% more likely to steal your wallet and then lie about it afterwards. They may also be directly responsible for global warming.

  • Angela

    I got my red hair from both sides of my family, mom’s side had the lovely dark titan color and dad’s side had the bright penny red, I got the in-between color that has darkened as I got older. My twins were both born with red hair that has changed to a honey-brown color with lots of red highlights. Always hated being a redhead growing up in the days of Farah blond hair but never changed my hair color. My husband loves the red color and would not want me to ever change. Red Heads Rock!