Did you wear a pink shirt yesterday? In Canada, yesterday was pink shirt day, a day which is dedicated to the fight against bullying. It's a day that raises awareness of bullying, is aimed at encouraging to fight against bullying. These are all laudable things.
I didn't wear pink.
I have a pink shirt, but I didn't wear it. Not in protest against the day, because the day is important. I didn't wear it because whenever I do the world becomes dangerous for me. A fat man in a wheelchair wearing a pink shirt is a target that few seem to be able to resist. Now it's not because I'm a man in pink, but because, I'm told, the pink enhances my "porcine" body. Nice.
For all of you who did wear pink. Let me tell you a little story. We had Dr. Dick Sobsey come to Toronto many years ago to talk about abuse prevention and people with intellectual disabilities. He gave a brilliant presentation, as was to be expected. He had a powerpoint presentation that outlined a list of things that we could do to reduce or even stop abuse.
One of those points was, and I don't remember the exact words: Don't abuse those in your care.
I remember sitting there shocked. He then talked about how we all think that abuse is what other people do and that we had to be aware of who we were the power we had and the way we managed that power. It as a direct challenge to those, sitting there, to listen about how to reduce abuse that was epidemic in the sector of disability services.
I thought it was one of the bravest moments I'd seen in any presentation, ever.
Putting on a pink shirt doesn't mean that you have taken off your social status, your ability to see others as less, the power you have to intervene - or not - at your will and it certainly doesn't mean that the shirt turns you into an anti-bullying super-hero.
The shirt can mean something.
The shirt can mean nothing.
What matters, isn't yesterday, being all fashionable with the others who joined in on the fashion statement of the day. What matters is the day after. What matters is what you do today.
Have you the courage to look deep into yourself and ask what degree of bullying of others do you just simply casually accept?
Are you good with the fact that the kid with an intellectual disability in your class is always sort of excluded at social events like birthday parties or 'parents away' bashes? Do you justify with 'he wouldn't want to (or be allowed to) come anyway.
Exclusion is bullying.
Are you fine with joining in with staring at a fat man in a pink shirt and giggling when someone makes a pig sound? It's just a stranger after all, and really, he shouldn't have worn pink.
Centring someone out based on difference is bullying.
Are you Okay with people using disability negative language or racial joking when it's 'just among friends' when it's 'just funny.'
Being just among friends who are all the same involves, of course, exclusion.
These are only a few of the questions you need to ask yourself.
Who are you in relationship to bullying?
Who am I?
I know, for me, this has lead to uncomfortable self examination. I know I don't always speak up when I see bullying. I know that I speak up more - but that's not really an acceptable outcome, is it? I know that I have to keep looking at how I define bullying so that I catch what it really is - social violence. I know that I am afraid of violence. I know that I'm fearful of intervening sometimes.
I didn't wear pink.
It dangerous for me to wear.
But I also don't deserve to.