Ginger Jibes   Leave a comment


Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander

This week, whilst addressing the Scottish Labour Party conference, Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman labelled the Chief Treasury Secretary (and Scottish MP) Danny Alexander as a “ginger rodent”.  As a former Equalities Minister, should Ms Harman have known better?

Harman is quoted by the Telegraph as saying: “Now, many of us in the Labour Party are conservationists and we all love the red squirrel.  But there is one ginger rodent which we never want to see again in the Highlands – Danny Alexander.”

On the face of it, Harman’s comment seems to have been an off-the-cuff remark which was soon apologised for once she had realised how silly it was.  However, Ministers in the Shadow Cabinet only make speeches that have been drafted, submitted, re-drafted, verified, and checked again before they are delivered.  Fellow ginger politician Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP claimed that the high proportion of redheads in Scotland meant Ms Harman’s “silly remark isn’t anti-Danny or anti-Lib Dem, it’s anti-Scottish”.

As a fellow redhead, I am well aware of the playground-style jokes which continue in abundance into adult life: mostly harmless of course, but in these days of political correctness no-one would ever consider it appropriate to be so jovial about those with a different coloured skin or a different accent to our own.  Ms Harman would never have dared to make such a quip about Mr Alexander if he were of a different ethnic background – the damage done to both Harman and the Labour Party would have been so extreme that she would have had to resign.

In a lighter vein, redheaded comedians in recent years have been making others aware of the plight of those with ginger hair and the continuation of so-called “gingerism” (aka. prejudice or discrimination against redheads) in the modern world.  Two examples which immediately spring to mind are: Catherine Tate in her sketch show and the comedy musician Tim Minchin.  One series of Tate’s BBC show included a sketch about a ginger woman having to be re-housed into a ‘ginger refuge’ due to the actions of her neighbours (watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUhLIjlTNSk).  However, Minchin makes his point clear in a song often performed in his stand-up show called “Prejudice” – the chorus is as follows:

Only a ginger can call another ginger ginger
Only a ginger can call another ginger ginger
So if you call us ginge we just might come unhinged
If you don’t have a fringe with at least a tinge of the ginge
Only a ginger can call another ginger ginger
(listen to this song in full here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVN_0qvuhhw)

Minchin explains, through the medium of song, that ginger is an anagram of another word which used to be taboo, but has since been reclaimed by those who it was originally meant to insult – therefore, he tells us that only the people who it describes can use the reclaimed adjective.  There are other cases where this is also true; for example, homosexuals have reclaimed the word ‘poof’ and, whilst they may well jokingly refer to each other as ‘poofs’, it would still be extremely unacceptable for a politician to publicly refer to anyone (gay or not) as a ‘poof’.

However, Danny Alexander seemed unfazed by the comments made by Ms Harman as he wrote on the social networking site Twitter: “I am proud to be ginger and rodents do valuable work cleaning up mess others leave behind.  Red squirrel deserves to survive, unlike Labour.”  Nice comeback Mr Alexander!

The crux of this story is the moral issue behind it.  Is it okay or unacceptable for Harriet Harman to publicly fling an insult which refers to someone’s appearance?  I personally believe that it isn’t acceptable, especially for someone in her profession to do it, because it potentially opens the floodgates for people to be publicly mocked for other reasons: their height, their weight, if they wear glasses, if they have slightly crooked nose, etc.  Isn’t it time our politicians grew up and concentrated on how to really solve issues rather than resorting to name-calling when they can’t find a better solution?

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Posted 01/11/2010 by thinkmindy in Morality, Politics

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