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When my son was born the nurses all exclaimed, "Look at his hair! He's a redhead!"
"Shhhh!" was my husband's response, "Don't tell her!"
I know, I'm awful. I actually told my husband several times during my pregnancy that everything would be okay as long as he didn't give me a redheaded baby. And we laughed because I'm half black with dark hair and eyes, and while my husband was blonde as a baby, his hair turned brown and he is also mixed race. I was prepared for him to come out a little caramel yum yum with tan skin, brown eyes and maybe blonde curls. I even thought if he got a gene for extra melanin he might come out with dark skin, but nope.
I gave birth to a pale ginger.
With blue eyes.
Having a baby with the rarest genetic combination in the world means we immediately nicknamed our son Red Rasta to honor his paternal Jamaican heritage. Gingers are special and unique genetically, but are also subjected to a great deal of teasing. I won't lie, I've made an anti-male ginger comment from time to time with little thought to how that may have affected the redhead involved. (Adam from daycare in 1984, I'm sorry I said you you looked like the kid from Mad Magazine, but those bow ties were doing nothing for you.)
Scott P. Harris explores this in his film "Being Ginger" which is a lovely little documentary streaming on Netflix about his search for love and self acceptance of his, er, gingerness. The filmmaker remembers being bullied for his red hair and freckles and clearly it had a terrible effect on his self-esteem, which serves as a reminder that we should teach our children not to tease others for any reason. Those hateful words can sting and have long-lasting effects. More importantly, we should teach them that they don't need to believe what others say about them, it's not true.
I've struggled with identity issues and while all of these things have made me into the strong woman I am today, I want to spare my son hurtful comments about his appearance.
Ever since our son was born my husband and I notice redheads all the time. At the supermarket, around the neighborhood and especially on television where there are actually more redheads, probably because they attract attention. I never gave much thought to the plight of gingers until I had one. I would imagine it's similar to the experience my white mother had when she married a black man and had non-white children. She realized race was something she never thought about, but we thought about it all the time.
As a mixed race person who grew up in a predominantly white area, I'm no stranger to the feeling of otherness and having people constantly comment on my physical appearance. I've had racial epithets hurled at me in anger. I've struggled with identity issues and while all of these things have made me into the strong woman I am today, I want to spare my son hurtful comments about his appearance. So no more ginger jokes in our house!
Instead I'll let him know he is awesome and unique and for those of you with your own little gingers, here are some other noteworthy facts:
Redheads do get sunburned easily and can't absorb sufficient vitamin D, but redheads actually produce their own vitamin D when exposed to low light conditions. Amazing!
Redheads don't go gray—just blonde to silvery white.
Redheads have less hair but the strands are thicker so your baby may look bald now but will undoubtedly have a full head of hair in no time!
Redheads have their own annual festival called Redhead Days ("Roodharigendag" in Dutch.) It takes place in the Netherlands and is attended by thousands of people with natural red hair. Sounds like a great family vacation!
While red hair is most common in people of European descent, the MCR1 gene can also be found in other races and ethnicities as gorgeously documented by Michelle Marshall here.
So say it loud son, "I'm a quarter black redhead and I'm proud!"
Children's hair color often changes as they age, but now I'm prepared to love my lil' ginger and make sure he loves himself, because c'mon, he's totally gorgeous.