Documenting the UK’s Black and Mixed Race Gingers

Documenting the UK’s Black and Mixed Race Gingers


Natasha Culzac

Francis Johnson by Michelle Marshall

How would you describe a typical redhead? Do you think of Julianne Moore: light skinned and beautiful, with rust-coloured hair and a flush of crimson through her porcelain cheeks? Or do you think of Ed Sheeran?

Either way, it’s likely the redhead in your mind is white. Red hair is mainly considered the preserve of northern Europe, a Celtic-Germanic trait. This is what resulted in London-based photographer Michelle Marshall’s quest to capture as many Afro Caribbean redheads as possible as part of her project, MC1R.

MC1R, or Melanocortin 1 receptor if you’re feeling fancy, is the gene responsible for red hair. Mutations in it can cause various degrees of pigmentation. It’ll either work “properly”, causing your hair to get darker, or it will become dysfunctional, not activate and then fail to turn red pigment to brown, causing a build up of red pigment and thus, red hair…

Dr George Busby from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics agrees. He says that the red hair and freckles is the likely result of the historical interactions between Europeans and Africans in the formation of the Caribbean populations – most notably with Brits, as the Spanish and Portuguese went to South America.

George states: “This might also explain why you occasionally see red hair on a black Caribbean person who has two black parents. By chance alone, it might be that they are both carrying a European mutation which has come together in their child.”

Most of Michelle’s subjects have been in the UK, though she’s had a lot of interest in the US and some in mainland Europe. “I’ve got the whole of London on this,” she laughs, when describing her army of spotters…

Read the entire article here.

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