by Alicia Costa
I have been spending a lot of time in my car as of late and am thus subjected to a lot of terrible radio. Lately I’ve been hearing one particularly annoying ad on one of the major radio stations. “From now to February 15th submit your design for a new anti-bullying t-shirt and you could win $500! The winning design will be sold at Metrotown with all proceeds going to Kids Help Phone.” Wee! Anti bullying is fun and lucrative! This contest runs in conjunction with ‘Pink Shirt Day’ on Feb 29 to raise awareness and promote zero-tolerance about bullying.
I really appreciate the sentiment behind Pink Shirt Day – it started as a grassroots organization by two grade 9 boys in an effort to stop the constant bullying they saw of a classmate. However, I have grown to resent the constant connection between ‘raising awareness’ and selling junk.
Have we learned nothing from the money making machine that is the Susan B. Komen Foundation? That’s another grassroots organization to raise money, awareness, and find a cure for breast cancer, set up by Susan B. Komen shortly after her diagnosis and continued by her sister Nancy G. Brinker after her death. However, it’s turned into a money-making empire through slinging pink BlackBerry cases and dog collars.
Sure many schools have got on board with the Pink Shirt Day thing, and a lot of kids wear pink shirts one day a year but does it really do anything to stop bullying? Does this actually hold educators and parents and the bullies themselves accountable for the bullying that happens in schools? Do kids feel safer to be themselves without fear of being subjected to ridicule?
I suppose I am a little too close to this subject. I don’t often talk about my experience but I was a victim of vicious bullying throughout my elementary school years. I was physically, emotionally, and mentally bullied on a daily basis. I was constantly pushed to the brink and all this happened in front of witnesses. Never once did a teacher intervene while I was being bullied. Not a single one listened to me when I told them what was happening. Thus I am cynical about the effect a pink shirt would have had on that experience.
But that was the 90s and times have changed right? We didn’t have Pink Shirt Days to make the bullies more ‘aware.’ Kids now are more progressive and sensitive to others who are different, but bullies now have access to newer, faster, and more vicious forms of abuse via the internet. In addition to the verbal and physical tortures they always had at their disposal, mean kids can now do the damage passively from the comforts of home.
We are failing our youth in big way. In Canada, suicide is the second highest cause of death for youth (aged 10-24). In November 15-year-old Marjorie Raymond from Quebec committed suicide. She stated she could no longer endure being bullied at school. We fail to acknowledge that bullying does get that bad. It is hard to see a better future when the present is so unbearable.
Wearing a pink shirt one day a year isn’t enough for me. It’s time to hold everyone accountable for his or her own actions. Especially the adults in positions of power the parents and the educators. We need to empower survivors of bullying to come forward and speak their stories about the lasting and damaging effects bullying has on your life. Schools need to be safe for everyone. Especially the fat kids, the queer kids, the kids of colour, the art kids, and all the kids that break the mould.
(photo via Wikimedia Commons)