Hugs, not harassment: Facebook groups slam day of violence against redheads

Staff ~ The Truro Daily News
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TORONTO - Have no fear, redheads - it appears this Nov. 20, you were more likely to be hugged than harassed, consoled rather than kicked.
The day had been dubbed by some as Kick a Ginger Day, a nod to a 2005 episode of the satirical animated TV show South Park that joked about launching a campaign of violence against those with red hair.
Last year, 13 Calgary students were suspended after a red-haired Grade 10 student was swarmed and beaten. Teachers in one Newfoundland school board were told to be on "heightened alert" after parents came across the campaign on Facebook and notified school officials.
In B.C. last year, local media reported more than 20 students at a school west of Victoria were suspended after bullying redheads. The province's RCMP investigated but never charged the 14-year-old administrator of a Facebook group called "National Kick a Ginger Day, are you going to do it?"
While the Facebook group - which reportedly peaked at nearly 5,000 members - has since been shut down, some feared the idea of devoting a day to targeting redheads would re-emerge this year.
Enter Gillian Young. The 36-year-old Vancouver woman and proud redhead found out about the campaign, joined one of the pro-violence groups, and was so aggressive in promoting peace that the group's administrator changed his ways, she said, and gave her control of the site.
Today, the site - which Young has renamed "Universal Hug a Ginger Day (and everyone else for that matter!)" - has nearly 1,200 members. A quick search suggests the sites calling for people to speak out against Kick a Ginger Day far outnumber those which promote bullying. Young's is one of the largest.
"I wouldn't let it go," said Young, who was called "witch" and "carrot top" as a child because of her red locks.
"I was in (the group) and I was just continuously promoting the love ... counteracting every single negative thing that someone was trying to say."
Members of another Facebook group, "Stop the Hate - Stand Up Against 'Kick a Ginger Day,"' vowed to dye their hair and wear red or orange shirts in protest. More than 1,200 people had joined that group by Friday.
Calgary police said the force hadn't heard of any anti-redhead violence in the city Friday.
While the number of violent incidents reported to police appeared minimal compared to 2008, there was ample evidence online that the day hadn't faded completely from the public consciousness. One user of microblogging service Twitter called it "the best freaking day ever," while another claimed she'd been kicked 29 times.
A mother also told a newspaper in Niagara Falls, Ont., she would be keeping her redheaded children home from school.
The idea of targeting kids with red hair is "just unacceptable," said Debra Pepler, a York University psychology professor and the co-leader of PREVNet, a national anti-bullying organization.
Pepler said she first encountered the phenomenon of prejudice against redheads, also known as "gingerism," two decades ago in Norway.
Some news reports have suggested gingerism is particularly virulent in England, where even Prince Harry, third in line to the throne, has acknowledged he'd been bullied for the colour of his hair.
"It has to do with differences," said Pepler. "People may say it's all in fun, but it isn't in fun. The young people who have red hair and are being kicked or harassed or tormented feel vulnerable."
Adults need to talk with young people about the seriousness of all bullying, not just that which targets redheads, said Pepler. And while Facebook helped spread last year's spate of violence, social networking sites, she said, can have a positive effect.
"It (Facebook) provides a way of showing young people who are courageous enough to stand up and say 'this is wrong' to realize that they're not alone. And I think that's tremendously important," said Pepler.
"I like the idea of 'hugging a ginger,"' she added. "I think that's the antithesis (of violence against redheads), the positive solution to the problem."

Organizations: RCMP, York University

Geographic location: Calgary, TORONTO, South Park B.C. Victoria Vancouver Niagara Falls Norway England

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