Most of you know that I have red hair. Bright red but not quite clown-like and now a bit more white than I'd care to admit. In spite of my dear parents' best efforts, I grew up hating my hair because everyone else seemed to hate it to. But I couldn't figure out why.
If you don't have red hair or if you grew up in a time after the passing of the Hair Equality Protection Act (HEPA), maybe this won't make sense, but my hair was a constant source of pain to me. I dreamed of being a brunette because I wanted hair that would blend in. I dreamed of being tan, instead of pasty white with freckles. Someday I'll probably have skin cancer as a result of the dozens of times I tried to lay out, thinking that all I had to do was get the freckles to fill in and I'd have normal skin. (Early signs of genius, I think.) All I ended up with was second degree burns for skipping the Uval.
When I was an adult my father finally admitted that my own paternal grandmother didn't like me because she didn't like red hair. I was relieved to finally know that it wasn't all in my head.
From the time I started school I was incessantly mocked for my hair and freckles. I guess being only 2% of the population was enough to be some odd kind of minority worthy of scorn. I was called “carrot top” and “fireball” and whatever else people could think of. As a young adult I was told “you're really pretty…for a redhead” and “I never pictured myself with a redhead” and equally unanswerable “compliments.”
I used to compete in the Miss American pageant system. Two different times I was told by judges (who are not supposed to talk to contestants) that I was only considered for a runner-up position because redheads had no chance at nationals. I was first runner-up to Miss Orem in 1985. The first runner-up to Miss Provo was also a redhead. We were both in the top 10 at Miss BYU that year and both told by a judge that “redheads are more attendant material.” By that time it was almost laughable. At least we had each other to roll our eyes at.
If you've ever read/watched Anne of Green Gables you can get a little bit of the feel for the general distaste people seemed to have for “us.”
When my parents filled out the adoption forms before I was born (in 1964) on featured the following questions:
- Would you be willing to adopt a child who is handicapped?
- Would you be willing to adopt a child of a different race?
- Would you be willing to adopt a child with red hair?
With all the Obama fever and racial talk going on today, I want to be sure you understand that I'm not saying the treatment I got for being in the hair minotiry was as bad as being part of a racial minority. I have no idea how bad it was compared to things I didn't live through. I just know that it was, to me, this utterly baffling thing. Why would the color of my hair make me unacceptable to so many? What did I have to do with my hair color anyway?
If nothing else, that experience made me aware of something at a fundamental level. It helped me understand that while we do (and must) judge, that there are some very definite areas that should always be utterly outside the realm of judgment.