7 gorgeous photos of redheads that challenge the way we see race

How many non-white redheads do you know?

Think about it. Around 1-2% of the world's population boasts natural red hair, which is caused by a genetic mutation in the melanocortin-1 receptor, or MC1R (this mutation might also explain their superpowers).

Despite making up such a small percentage of the population, most of us have the same stereotypical image in our heads when we think of redheads: light-skinned, freckled white people with curls of flaming hair and a fiery temper to match.


Aside from the obvious issue of assigning a temperament to someone based on hair color, there's one other weird conclusion here: Why do we think that all redheads are white?

Photo by Michelle Marshall. Used with permission.

A London-based photographer is opening eyes by turning her camera lens on black and biracial redheads.

Photographer Michelle Marshall, a French-born, London-based photographer, spoke with Upworthy about the genesis of her project over email. Michelle had been working on a story for a different photo project about freckles (another common result of MC1R mutations), when one day, she spotted an adorable freckled redheaded girl — and was surprised to learn that the girl was of mixed-race background.

Michelle's initial story pitch was rejected, but she couldn't get this idea of black and biracial redheads out of her mind. Mostly, she was just curious — as artists often are.

"Portrait photography allows me to study what I like, what I see in others that may be overlooked," she told Upworthy. "I see each portrait as a series of distraction-free frames charged with an authenticity of features, traits, mannerism, quirks, and worth."

Here are just a few of the faces from what became Michelle's "MC1R" photo project, along with a few thoughts from her artist statement:

"I am currently interested in documenting the incidence of the MC1R gene variant responsible for red hair and freckles, particularly amongst black/mixed raced individuals of all ages."

Photo by Michelle Marshall. Used with permission.

"I want to stir the perception that most of us have of a 'ginger' as a white Caucasian individual, potentially of Celtic descent."

Photo by Michelle Marshall. Used with permission.

"Whilst there there may be an underlying Irish/Scottish connection to the MCR1 gene in the occurrence of red hair, does being ginger really still only confine itself to being Scottish, Irish, Welsh, or even a white Caucasian individual?"

Photo by Michelle Marshall. Used with permission.

"As we struggle with issues of immigration, discrimination, and racial prejudice, Mother Nature, meanwhile, follows its own course, embracing society's plurality and, in the process, shaking up our perceptions about origins, ethnicity, and identity."

Photo by Michelle Marshall. Used with permission.

"Scotland may well have the highest percentage of people with red hair in the world, yet statistics haven't really caught up and do not seem to represent everyone."

Photo by Michelle Marshall. Used with permission.

"I wish to create compelling portraits, a visual census representing our constantly changing society."

Photo by Michelle Marshall. Used with permission.

But above all, Michelle's MC1R project is doing what art does best: connecting people.

As Michelle points out in her artist statement, redheads are typically associated with Irish and Scottish peoples of Celtic descent (unlike the rest of the world, a whopping 13% of Scotland is ginger). But sometimes that MC1R mutation can be passed down through generations from people of African or Caribbean descent, a detail that is likely due to the British slave trade under Cromwell (#ThanksColonialism) and has some pretty interesting implications for the ways we qualify race.

"A lot of [my photo subjects] have been feeling quite isolated," Michelle said in an interview with Vice. "I got a message from one boy who said, 'I didn't realize there were so many of us' — I've not even shot 50 people. But the fact that he was able to see a cluster of people that matched his identify and could relate to that is quite positive."

That's why it's so important that we open our eyes and celebrate the diversity in the world. Not only does it encourage us to challenge our own preconceived notions — for example, by showing us that redheads don't have to be white — but it also helps those people see themselves (or helps us see ourselves) represented in the world.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Families are beginning to receive direct monthly payments from the IRS, and some people seem to be confused about the what and the why of it. Heres' a brief explainer:

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act (passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden in March), two things changed about the Child Tax Credit that families receive as part of their normal taxes. 1) The amount per child was increased, and 2) The distribution of those funds was changed for the year 2021.

Last year, the tax credit was $2,000 per child up to age 16, and the money was included in the calculation of a parent's tax return at tax time. (A tax credit is different than a tax deduction, just to be clear. It's basically a direct refund. A $2,000 tax credit is $2,000 handed back to you.)

This year, that tax credit amount was increased to $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17, and $3,600 per child under age 6. In addition to that increase, half of the tax credit amount will be paid out in monthly installments for the rest of 2021. The other half will be included in a person's tax return next spring, as usual.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Families are beginning to receive direct monthly payments from the IRS, and some people seem to be confused about the what and the why of it. Heres' a brief explainer:

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act (passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden in March), two things changed about the Child Tax Credit that families receive as part of their normal taxes. 1) The amount per child was increased, and 2) The distribution of those funds was changed for the year 2021.

Last year, the tax credit was $2,000 per child up to age 16, and the money was included in the calculation of a parent's tax return at tax time. (A tax credit is different than a tax deduction, just to be clear. It's basically a direct refund. A $2,000 tax credit is $2,000 handed back to you.)

This year, that tax credit amount was increased to $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17, and $3,600 per child under age 6. In addition to that increase, half of the tax credit amount will be paid out in monthly installments for the rest of 2021. The other half will be included in a person's tax return next spring, as usual.

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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."