According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, a redhead is a person with red hair.
Respectfully, I disagree. There is much more to a redhead than the color of his hair. Or hers, of course.
If the color of our hair were all there was to being a redhead, then how can anyone explain that in centuries past, in totally different cultures, redheads were buried alive, burned as witches, ridiculed, persecuted, and what not?
But we do not need to go to centuries past. Redheads are sill treated differently in our modern society. Why does a total stranger feel it is OK to address me as “Hey, Red”? I would never dream of calling him “Hey, Brown!”
Why do children feel free to tease their redhaired school mates constantly and mercilessly? How can a child tell a priest in a religious class, “Don’t touch his hair, Father,” and when asked why, reply, “Because it will set your hand on fire.” (I’m not making this up, it happened!)
Well, excuse me!!!
Last, but not least, why is no redhead neutral to his own redheadedness? We either hate it (especially as children), or are absolutely proud of it (especially as adults). There is no middle ground.
Indeed, I am strongly convinced, there is more, much more, to being a redhead than the color of one’s hair. After all, hair color changes naturally throughout one’s life. It can also be changed deliberately. But we were born redheads, we live as redheads, and someday we will die redheads. It cannot be taken away from us. Nor can it be obtained by simply dyeing one’s hair. In other words, redheads are born, not made.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against anyone dyeing their hair red. In fact, I am flattered by it. Imitation, after all, is the best form of flattery. It also affirms my belief that there is nothing more beautiful than red hair (Norman Rockwell seemed to believe that, too).
I gues what I am trying to say is that we are not redheads because our hair is red (and every redhead has naturally red hair at least sometime in his life). Rather, I am convinced, our hair is red because we are redheads.
Being a redhead comes from within.
Redheadedness is a quality of the person, a state of mind. Red hair is simply an external, physical, manifestation, and a sure giveaway of this state of mind. Because of its beauty, red hair also is a special gift of nature given to redheads in appreciation for our special role in human society.
First, let’s take a look at a scientific explanation.
From the viewpoint of psychophysiology, color is an illusion. Light rays of various frequencies enter the eye and hit three different kinds of sensors. It works very much like a digital camera. The sensors produse electric signals which travel to the brain. These signals are then interpreted by human mind, which, by the way does a poor job at it. It compares the various signals from individual sensors with those from other sensors, combines some, contrasts others, and assembles the illusion of a continuous image.
As a result, the same physical object appears to have different shades of color depending on the amount and frequencies of light it reflects, and on the perceived color of neighboring objects.
Biochemically, the hair color (and skin color) is determined by the presence of melanin. I am not a biochemist, mind you, but from what I have read, there are two types of melanin present in human skin and hair.
One of them is brown. Depending on the amount and distribution of this chemical in human hair, one’s hair can be light blond, ash blond, brown, or apparently black (which is actually very dark brown).
The other one is reddish. Again, depending on its amount and distribution, one’s hair can be yellow, orange, or red. Actually, it is never pure red in the absolute sense, it always has some amount of yellow mixed in, which, technically makes it a shade of orange, but let’s not dwell on technicalities.
Most people do not have much, if any, of the reddish chemical present in their hair. All redheads do. Many redheads also have some amount of the brown melanin in their hair, but not enough to render the red color invisible to human eye, or, rather, mind. A combination of red and brown can produce reddish brown hair, for example.
Also, the hair of blonds and brunets may contain some amount of the red chemical. This may produce a golden brown color, or golden blond. Or, the brown color may be strong enough to hide the redness from the human eye altogether.
The amount and distribution of these chemicals changes during one’s lifetime. For example, blond children often have brown hair in their adulthood. And children with bright red hair often find their hair much less bright in older years, or even lose the redness completely.
If I understand it correctly, grayness is not caused by the disappearance of melanin from hair, but by air bubbles changing the optical properties of hair. It then appears white, not gray. The illusion of gray comes from some hair being dark and some white. This would also explain why people with red hair do not seem to gray. The mixture of red and white hair will produce the illusion of ligther red rather than gray.
The combination of the two different types of pigment is determined genetically. “Redness of the hair seems to be caused by a single gene pair with two alleles, red (G) or no red (g), and displays incomplete dominance.” So, there are essentially three possibilites: GG- very red, Gg - medium red, and gg - no red. These, combined with various mixtures of brown, then produce the entire scale of various shades of red hair.
Incidentally, the presence or absence of freckles depends on a different chromosome. So, you can have fiery red hair and no freckles, or deep brown hair and lots of freckles.
Similarly, skin color is determined by yet different chromosomes. You can have dark skin and bright red hair. Having spent four years in Rome, Italy, I assure you I have seen dark skinned redheads, and it is, indeed, an interesting combination.
By the way, understanding how hair color is produced shows an interesting fact:
Redheads are indestructible!
That means that if some madman managed to kill off all people with red hair, come next generation, redheads would still be born! Thank goodness for that because for centuries people have been burning redheads as witches, so, indeed, people have tried the redhead genocide. And, of course, they failed. Nature protects its special ones!!! Do redheads share certain psychological characteristics? There certainly exist many prejudices about us. We are supposed to be untrustworthy, crazy, excitable, and what not.
Well, my friend, I have only one thing to say about prejudice: Prejudice sucks!
There is certainly no gene for untrustworthiness. Nor for “craziness,” whatever that may be.
Can there be a psychological reason for redheads to be more excitable than the average? After all, colors do influence us to a certain extent. The red color, indeed, has the tendency to excite us.
What if someone is constantly exposed to red? Would it produce a permanent psychological effect?
Actually, it is quite possible. But why should the color of our hair have that effect on us? Or any effect.
After all, we redheads do not have eyes placed on the top of our heads. We have them at the same place as anyone else. We are not “constantly exposed” to red color. We don't see our hair any more than blonds and brunets see theirs: When we look in the mirror to comb our hair, that’s when we see it. Otherwise we don’t.
For that matter, it is the people around us that see our red hair more than we do. So, if anyone should be more excitable, it is not the redheads, it is the rest of people, at least those we are in regular contact with.
In reality, the people around us do not seem more excitable than anyone else. Well, a few freaks obsessed with redheads are. But that has nothing to do with color perception. Or with us.
So, give us a break, folks! We are just like the rest of you. Some of us are trustworthy, some are not. Some of us may be “crazy,” most of us are not.
If there is any psychological reason for the validation of these prejudices, it is in the mind of those prejudiced. If someone expects all redheads to behave a certain way, and meets a redhead who does, well, that affirms their prejudice. When they meet the rest of us, they just ignore the “exceptions.”
I repeat, give us a break!
That said, redheads do seem to share certain psychological characteristic. Not because of our chromosomes, but because of the way we are often treated, especially during childhood.
We don’t like being made fun of because we are perceived as “different.” We are only “different” because there are so few of us, anywhere between 2 - 5% of population. And remember, part of the reason they are so few of us is that in centuries past redheads were burned alive as witches, buried alive in Egyptian tombs, and so on. It was the prejudice against us that often killed us before we could have children. We are only “different” because others have made us so.