Yep, she went there, and now I must speak. Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren called Congressman Joe Kennedy a “little ginger nerd” (among other things) after his State of the Union rebuttal on January 30. It was an interesting choice of insults, but not one that surprised me. You see I come from a family of “gingers.” I am the daughter of one, the granddaughter of one, the niece of one, the wife of one, the mother of two, and the cousin of too many to count. So when I heard Ms. Lahren hurl her insult regarding the color of Representative Kennedy’s hair, my heart sank. This insult was childish, this insult was petty, and this insult reminded me of a story.
When my youngest red haired son was in elementary school, he complained about being called a ginger. While there was nothing wrong with the word ginger, it was, to him, the way the word had been used. It was a weapon, an insult, a way to embarrass him and make him feel bad. And it had made him feel bad. So bad that he went through a phase of wanting to dye his hair brown, black, or anything other than the beautiful red that God had given him. I was both sad and disappointed that he had been bullied because of his hair color, and that he now wanted it to change.
As a blonde, I had no idea that calling a red head a “ginger” was an insult. I really didn’t. So I consulted my older teenage son who also has red hair and asked him if he felt the same.
“Yes. That’s right,” he said. “Being called a ‘ginger’ feels just like being called by any racial or bigoted slur.”
What? I was shocked. He couldn’t be serious.
But he was. He went on to explain that he’d been called a “ginger” on a regular basis, and it had always been hurled as an insult. It had never been a compliment, or even a term of endearment. It was always mean-spirited, always meant to be hurtful, always used to make fun of him. But over time he’d grown callous and let it bounce right off that thick skin he’d developed in response.
I know these days, everybody is offended by something and it’s sometimes too much. Often it feels like we can’t say anything without stepping on someone’s sensitive toes. But it’s really quite simple: if we say something meant to hurt someone else, then we’re wrong, regardless of what they, or anyone else has said. We alone are responsible for how we make people feel.
While this word and this example of an insult is not a matter of urgency or major importance, it speaks to a larger concern: respect. Respect and its absence in today’s society is a topic worth reassessing.
Forget the media; they are not our standard. Nor are the politicians, the celebrities, or the everyday people around us who fight their battles wielding word daggers and repugnant discourse. Insulting people and focusing on the negative is not only easy and commonplace and predictable, it’s ineffective. Showing respect to those around us who are different affects change. So do what you will: use the word, don’t use the word; just choose to be a person who shows respect to others.
Rise above the negative noise filling our world today. Be bold, be heard, but be respectful.
And you, Tomi Lahren, be better.
Katy D. Shelton is a freelance writer and editor for www.BeaconPeople.org and SecondStoriesBook.com. She has been published in Lake Magazine, The Alex City Outlook, ScaryMommy.com, GrownandFlown.com and BluntMoms.com. She has three adult sons and lives with her husband John on Lake Martin in Alexander City, AL. Read more by Katy on www.whatsheread.wordpress.com and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.