In a recent installment of its “Race on Campus” column, The Chronicle of Higher Education examined the pros and cons of using the terms “minority,” “people of color,” and “Bipoc” to refer to groups of non-white individuals (June 8th online).
The analysis presented is a valuable one, but it fails to explicitly discuss the linguistic challenge posed by another group that has been traditionally marginalized on college campuses: red-haired students. As a service to University Life readers, here is an overview of the top 10 terms that professors employ when interacting with this population.
Crimson Tide: A respectful and empowering label, but it’s been trademarked by the University of Alabama, and their lawyers will sue you for invoking it if they find out. Consider yourself warned.
Merlots: Associated with a popular red wine, this term is classy and highbrow. However, many object that the word implies that all red-haired students are alcoholics. Although most redheads do have serious drinking problems, a few do not.
Red Delicious: Favored by male professors who teach at women’s colleges in apple-growing regions of the country; increasingly regarded as offensive.
Frecklers: Capitalizes on the fact that red hair and freckles go together. But not always. This means that students with red hair but no freckles feel even further marginalized.
Cardinalians: Honors a bird of distinction, but representatives of the cardinal community, including the Audubon Society, have complained that the term unjustly appropriates avian identity for human purposes.
Sunburners: It’s true that individuals with red hair are especially vulnerable to sunburns. Unfortunately, this makes the label a “trigger word” for many, bringing to the surface excruciating memories of the “scarlet hell” experienced after visits to the beach.
Pippies: Pippi Longstocking, a fictional Swedish character with red hair, is a beloved figure both within and outside the red-haired community. “Pippies” is the term officially recognized for addressing red-haired students at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, a school with Swedish roots.
Dye Jobs: Considered a “red slur,” but still frequently employed by many faculty at colleges in the Deep South. Do not use.
Wildfires: Another derogatory term, based in stereotypes about the quick tempers of people with red hair; used extensively in the Southwest and Far West.
Hucknallers: A tribute to Mick Hucknall, the red-headed lead singer of the British soul/pop group Simply Red. Regrettably, virtually no one pays attention to this band in 2021, and use of the term has declined steadily since 1990. Attempts to replace it with “Sheeranians,” in honor of another British singer (Ed Sheeran), have failed to gain traction.
Best of luck in finding a word that works for you.