The realities of anti-bullying rhetoric, as it relates to the campaigns It Gets Better and Pink Shirt Day
I was bullied as a child. Not once, not twice. Not three times. Relentlessly, throughout primary school and secondary school (Grades 3rd-9th). Because I was short, I was geeky, I was nerdy and I was way smarter than anybody else in my cohort. Admittedly, as I have grown older, the bullying has had a different overtone, if it ever appears: it’s envy badly disguised as passive-aggressiveness. But I can’t ever forget (and hardly forgive) any of the bullies that I faced growing up.
Because I had older (and stronger, and extremely loving, and willing to break anybody’s noses and arms) brothers, I always felt I had a recourse. But my recourse was never my school teacher, nor my peers. Nor the school administration. And most definitely, not society. I remember parents of my bullies telling my parents “Raul needs to learn to protect himself from our son”. And of course, my parents’ blood boiled.
Whenever I hear all this rhetoric around anti-bullying policies, campaigns like “It Gets Better” and the “Pink Shirt Day”, my blood boils too. And yes, I do notice that I have previously written about (and in support) of Pink Shirt Day, and It Gets Better. But I’d like to give people a reality check. Bullying stops AT HOME. With parents who teach their children that NO, it’s not ok to attack other kids. That it’s NOT ok to push over other people to get what you want. That it’s NOT ok to call a kid a “fag” or a “weakling”.
I did not survive bullying thanks to my school. In fact, I have a little bit of a chuckle every time I bump into a former teacher of mine. They always praise me, “Raul, you are so amazing and so successful and you have reached so far“. And then I smirk. And then I tell them “yeah, so different from that little small kid that you never protected when you were my professor, right?”.
I survived bullying thanks to an amazing family. Thanks to wonderfully strong parents who trained me and my brothers, every day, to find in ourselves what we did best. Not to list, as bullies expected me, my shortcomings and vulnerabilities. But to always see myself as strong and capable, and better than anyone in my cohort. I survived thanks to my amazing brothers who always took it upon themselves to fight my battles when I wasn’t physically able to do it myself, because at 12, I didn’t have the physical strength than many of my cohort folks had.
And then, Tae-Kwon-Do and self-defense training happened.
And then, I realized I survived thanks to myself. To my inner and outer strength. To the fact that I was no longer afraid of fighting a battle, breaking a nose or a rib, and demonstrating that it was enough. In a Catholic, macho society like Mexico, not fighting your own battles was seen akin as being weak. So I did. I got into as many fights as I needed to stop my bullies.
But no, I didn’t survive thanks to any PSA. And it pains me to see that people seem to think that because we film beautiful PSAs and we wear pink, and we tell kids that it gets better, that we somehow seem to lose grip on reality. It does get better, yes, but IF AND ONLY IF you have a support system in place. You have seen it time and again, even kids who have filmed It Gets Better videos have taken their lives. AFTER filming them. WHAT WENT WRONG? I have no idea.
Pink Shirt Day is tomorrow, and yes I will be wearing a Pink Shirt in support. But more importantly, I will continue to do what I do best: tell my nieces and nephews that no, it’s not ok to push over other kids, but that if they are attacked, there are a number of ways to defend themselves. And that sometimes, enough is enough.