How to Treat a Redheaded Stranger

How to Treat a Redheaded Stranger

In honor of the recent progress made on the front of emoji equality for those of us with a non-standard hair color,  which I clearly had a little something to do with, I’ve been reflecting on redheadedness. In particular, the pitfalls of leaving the house as a Redheaded American today.

When I was little, I was frequently accosted in public by well-meaning adults who felt it was important to ask me excitedly, “Where did you get all that red hair?!” The question was confusing to me back then, and now I wonder what kind of answer they expected from a five-year-old. Did they want a prepared list of my red-haired relatives, to confirm that I was legit? Did they secretly hope that maybe my mom was Molly Ringwald? And can you imagine if people applied this line of questioning to other physical characteristics? Stranger: “Where did you get all that ass?!” Me: “😐” (Although, this one is actually an easier question to answer. I could just point to the Cheesy Gordita Crunch that’s probably in my hand at the time.)

  Me a couple of years ago. Shut up, that's just a mark on the photo, and probably not cake on my face. I would never waste cake like that.
Me a couple of years ago. Shut up, that’s just a mark on the photo, and probably not cake on my face. I would never waste cake like that.

I got this question about where I “got” my hair so frequently, and continued to be so confused about the excitement behind it, that my mom eventually got sick of the rigamarole and taught me to respond by simply saying, “Both sides of the family.” To be clear, my scientific education at the time was really just limited to knowing not to touch fire and other hot things, so my understanding of genetics was rudimentary at best. I just knew that my answer made adults laugh delightedly as though I’d said something very adorable, and then they’d finally go away. I’d like to point out that I think my mom really missed an opportunity to get creative here. She should have considered teaching me to respond with “Lucifer himself” or maybe “Your mom.” 

As an adult, I still get comments about my red hair, and most of the comments are very nice. But sometimes it gets weird. Occasionally I will get cornered by someone who is clearly in the midst of having a bizarre emotional reaction to seeing my hair. One time, a couple years ago, I had a woman march up to me while I was washing my hands in a pubic restroom and demand to know if my hair color was natural. I said it was, and she rolled her eyes, spat “UGH! Well it’s beautiful,” and stormed out. Other women are less aggressive and just tell me how they’d kill to have my hair, at which point I start to sweat and envision myself at the beginning of an old episode of Murder, She Wrote. I start brainstorming ways I can leave clues for the police to find after my death, and depositing a stray red hair is all I can ever think of on short notice, but it’s actually kind of perfect, considering how much that bitch wants to be me. Anyway, moving on. 

 Example of a redhead, so you know what to look for. But I think it could also just be He-Man in the witness protection program
Example of a redhead, so you know what to look for. But I think it could also just be He-Man in the witness protection program

In conclusion, friends, be nice to the red-haired folk you may encounter in public. We aren’t that different from you… just far more rare and interesting. At least you won’t have to make the effort for very long, because as you know, we will be extinct in like 20 years.

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