Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Day After Pink

Yesterday was 'pink shirt' day in Canada.

It's a day where we are asked to wear pink shirts as an anti-bullying statement.

I'm glad there is such a day, I'm glad that people are responding to the issue of bullying, I'm glad of all that.

The focus, though, I think needs to either shift or broaden if we ever are going to do anything effective, anything other than be symbolic about bullying.

As a fat kid I was bullied, on a routine basis.

As a fat adult I experience a different kind of bullying, but bullying nonetheless.

And while I hold only the bully accountable ...

... part of me, a big part of me, wants to make silence accountable. I remember one incident, that I don't wish to share here with you, where a crowd watched me being hurt and humiliated by two bullies. They stood and watched. I knew many of the people in that crowd to be good people. I had thought they were good people. But they stood silent and let it happen.

Without comment.

Later they tried to comfort me.

But I didn't need their words then.

I needed them before.

One of my biggest and most powerful memories of school was when a boy, so far above my status within the school hierarchy that we almost never even breathed the same air, broke from a group, that watched, and grabbed the person who had me on the floor, pinned down, and yanked him away from me. He told that kid that he was to leave me alone, that he was never to touch me again. I, still, all these years later remember that moment with clarity.

He wasn't silent.

He did what people who say they are anti-bullying need to do.

Anti-bullying isn't a sentiment and isn't expressed by wearing a symbol. It's an action.

While those who wear pink shirts need to be lauded, and I do laud the movement and the symbol and the history behind it. Their focus needs to be on the bully, and on the silence which is the fertile soil in which violence grows..


Silence is consent.


Flemisa said...


Symbols are nice but actions - positive action - are so much better.

Deb said...

I agree, standing by and saying nothing is contributing to the problem, consenting as it were.

Unknown said...

This is an issue that makes sense to me personally and professionally, and I hate to say, something I have been silent about on occasion (not often, but a small and significant handful of times, as sometimes I have not been the strong enough good person to step out of the oppressed and scared crowd). Rather than shame me, this blog has strengthened me to continue my non-silent journey. Thanks.

Susan said...

I am on vacation and am spending a luxuriously wasteful week overlooking Niagara Falls. One of the things I did today, which I "never" do, is to watch some daytime TV. I found myself watching "LIVE with Kelly and Michael" on ABC. One of the things that happens on that show that is supposed to be funny is that they both pick on and put down the show's producer, Gelman. I was disgusted as they ganged up on him and made fun of him on the air. Sure, this is not "reality". Gelman puts up with it and smiles through it because it increases ratings, and I'm sure they all laugh all the way to the bank, but it was not good. It was basically a perfect lesson on national TV of how to pick on and make fun of other people - it gave the message that all the "cool" people do it and that it's perfectly okay to do.

We need to stomp on it, all right. We need to stand up for people and say something - at all times and in all places.

I wrote the show this morning. And I hope I'm always in a position where I know what to say and when to say it - especially right in the moment, like that kid did for you all those years ago.

Your writing about this stuff and continuing to write about it, has made me for one so much more sensitive to these issues and so much more ready to be able to say what I need to say and to know when I need to say it.

Anonymous said...

What if the silent people felt just as powerless as you did? How can you judge them so harshly and equate their silence with consent when it could equally have been fear holding them back. You say that you hold only the bully accountable but that doesn't appear to be true. It is like when abused children blame their non-abusive parent as much as their abuser because it always comes down to that... "why didn't she just leave..."

You noted quite specifically that it was a very high status person who spoke up for you, have you considered the significance of this?? This is exactly the kind of person who CAN speak up, who has the expectation and experience of being listened to by others and expects to be able to make a difference. The other "powerless" people who identify more with the bullied person, they are more likely to stay quiet out of fear and offer support later (when it is safer) They don't need condemnation for that IMHO

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Thanks for sharing this story and I agree that the people who stand in silence and watch while someone else is being bullied are responsible for the harm being done too.

I have been silent and I have been the one to say stop it. And I am not sure what the difference was that made me able to intervene sometimes and not others.

I have also been bullied, not physically but certainly emotionally and psychologically. And I know that other people knew what was going on and did not intervene. That makes it hard for me to trust them now.

It is a good reminder on Pink Shirt Day -displays are fine but action is what is needed.


B. said...

Good point, Anonymous 19:51. I have spoken up (it can feel right, challenging, or scary, etc.) and been in situations where I felt I shouldn't/couldn't (it can feel sickening, frustrating, etc.).

Mary said...

I agree that silence is complicity and that if a person *can* speak up and make a difference, they should.

But, I also agree with Anon 19:51... and with airline safety videos... and with first aid training... and probably a few other things. Namely, that your first responsibility in any dangerous situation is to make sure *you* are safe and avoid becoming an additional casualty who is no help to anyone. Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

I think many people don't know that power exists. It can be hard to believe in it.

Once you see it, you know.