First, some history
In 2005 a South Park episode aired in which one of the characters, Cartman, gives a presentation in which he targets people with red hair, pale skin and freckles. Intended as a satire of how stupid racial discrimination is, the internet being what it is meant that of course some people took it literally. As a consequence, redheaded kids around the world were bullied, some physically, in an insidious real-life enactment of Cartman’s satirical call-to-arms. Kick a Ginger Day was born, went viral, then went too far.
Enter Derek Forgie, a Canadian comedian who decided, in 2009, that enough was enough. In an effort to subvert the Kick a Ginger phenomenon, he set up a Facebook page for an alternative movement called Kiss a Ginger Day. Deliberately close in spelling, but far more positive in its messaging. Here is Derek telling the story in his own words:
We first wrote about Kiss a Ginger Day ten years ago on our older sister site Hot For Ginger, when it was still a relatively unknown little event in the gingersphere. Then, in 2014, the rest of the world suddenly found out about it. Our website hit 500,000 visitors in a single day on January 12th 2014, all through the blog post which happened to be top of Google for the Kiss a Ginger Day search term at the time. We celebrated by hosting a party to mark the event the following year, the first of several annual parties we threw. Our Facebook page exploded from a few hundred people to over 25,000 followers in just a few months.
We were involved in most of the ginger-related events around that time, including featuring at the inaugural Red Head Day UK in the summer of 2016. At that even we invited redheads to sit with us and tell us their story. We interviewed more than 100 people and heard some wonderful perspectives on the redhead experience.
People started to anticipate our January events, which we carried on right up until January 2019, our final event before we abandoned the Hot For Ginger brand and changed to the Two Percent Club.
A shift in tone
The reason for the change coincided with a general shift in the response of people around Kiss a Ginger Day in general. At our 2018 event we started noticing an increase in unsavoury types who were trying to score a redheaded partner, presumably thinking that “kiss a ginger” was some kind of invitation rather than a symbolic moniker. Online, a similar attitudinal change was taking place, with
This type of fetishisation of redheads has long been a problem within our community, and most redheads can share at least a few stories of people becoming unhealthily attached to them simply because of their hair colour. With a brand name like Hot For Ginger, originally conceived as a tongue-in-cheek play on an expression I had personally heard a few times in my life (“you’re quite hot, for a ginger”), we were also attracting new followers who took it to mean something quite different.
This all coincided with a general decline in interest in redhead-related events and content. We did what we felt was the sensible thing and focused in on the community of redheads we had built and grew steadily from there (we now have a thriving online community of over 12,000 redheads with strict entry requirements). Meanwhile, January 12th ticked by year on year with less and less enthusiasm from the broader populace.
Last year, due to Covid lockdowns, the event was informally renamed for the first time, to the slightly precarious “Miss a Ginger Day” whose intent was to encourage people to think of the redheads they cared about and were not able to be with that day. We participated, digitally, in this temporary variant but it really got us thinking about where the whole thing should go from here.
The redhead experience
The joy of running a large community of redheads is getting to read about the different experiences of redheads from around the world. More importantly, perhaps, are the experiences they all share. Earlier this week I put out an open question to the community asking what it was like growing up as a redhead in their country. The responses were remarkably consistent from country to country. Here are some examples of the comments shared:
Was ruthlessly picked on & abused as a kiddo & teen. Insatiably desired by both male & females now!
As a child I was teased and bullied. Now I get compliments everyday on my hair by men and women.
You can’t joke about anything in the UK anymore, but apparently you can still malign redheads and gingers. Both of my kids have suffered bullying.
Australia – I used to get teased – but now I get mostly positive comments.
As a kid/ teen teased something terrible. As an adult people love my hair.
I was definitely teased as a kid and a teen for my hair and being pale and having freckles. Now as an adult ppl stare from time to time and lots compliment my hair colour.
The same pattern repeats over hundreds of comments left on the forum, a pattern that I also heard in person many times in my interactions with redheads. Although most of the bullying dies out in adulthood, the damage done in childhood stays with us forever.
Let’s revive the message
And so the need is still there. The intent behind the Kiss a Ginger Day event is, and always has been, extremely positive. But times have changed and the message has been confused somewhat. I feel a new take on January 12th needs to be considered, one that focuses more on listening to redheads, particularly the young ones, some of whom have told me of being sexually harassed at school because of Kiss a Ginger Day.
This year, on January 12th, we will be celebrating the spirit of Kiss a Ginger Day as always, but with a new subheading:
“Celebrate a redhead today”.