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.


Photo credit: Anna Vanna on Flickr

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.

Related posts:

  1. Bullying Stops Here: Pink Shirt Day 2012 is on February 29th, 2012
  2. Wear Pink Shirt Day Vancouver 2011 (Feb 23rd)
  3. Take 5 Café Supports Pink Shirt Day (Anti-Bullying Campaign)
  4. Wear Pink Shirt Day (Anti-Bullying Day) 2010
  5. Upcoming events – BC Anti-bullying Day

Comments (11)

ScatteredmomFebruary 28th, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Raul, this brought tears to my eyes. I cannot publicly speak in detail about our story, but as you said-my husband and I have had to fight tooth and nail for our son. It hasn’t been easy.

Oddly enough, it also wasn’t until Kev grew and Hubs taught him how to physically defend himself that some kids backed off. It’s interesting how a bully will leave a kid alone when HE is suddenly the one thrown into a locker.

Kev refuses to wear a pink shirt, because, he says, the bullies wear them and go right back to the same behaviour the next day.

NicoleFebruary 29th, 2012 at 6:53 am

Nicole recently posted..It all started with no poo

CarolFebruary 29th, 2012 at 8:57 am

Thanks for posting this. It was an informative insight into the cruelness of bullying.

CherylFebruary 29th, 2012 at 9:57 am


It’s true… bullying has been around since the beginning of time. It is not a new phenomena in human nature, but what is “new” is the trend that is starting where bullying is NOT socially acceptable anymore. Not so long ago (in our lifetimes and obviously when you were a child), it didn’t matter if you lived in Mexico, the US, the UK or Canada, bullying was an acceptable rite of childhood. If you were a boy, you were expected to physically fight your own battles and protect your younger siblings. That was all part of becoming a “man”. If you were a girl and being bullied because you were “fat”, or wore “glasses” or were not “graceful” and didn’t participate in all things “girlie”, then you were expected to learn from this and become “girlie” and act like the other girls. This is where dieting in elementary school came into being… girls are expected to look and live a role. This was happening back when I was in elementary school some 50 years ago… it is not a new phenomena in the schools today.

What IS new and different from years gone by is technology! Along with technology comes communication with the masses, both young and old… but in particular, the young. Whether one likes it or not, technology is here to stay and students (of any age) don’t know a life without it. They communicate with their peers, they do their homework research with it, all their learning involves technology either directly or indirectly to the point there is actually talk of eliminating teaching cursive writing in school. It is a whole different world from our childhood years. What we do have in common with kids today is that bullying is still there. What is different is we are at the very start of changing the attitude of social acceptance… a change that won’t happen overnight after centuries of acceptance.

You stated that to stop bullying, this starts at home, with the parents teaching their children that bullying is not acceptable behaviour. That’s true, but before that happens the attitude of parents must change. THEY have to be taught that what was socially acceptable when they were growing up is no longer acceptable in today’s world. Especially parents who WERE the bullies when they were children… chances are, they are still bullies as adults. They may not even see their behaviour as bullying…
they just see their victims as losers who deserve it. THAT is the attitude that has to change because their own children don’t stand a chance when they have parents with that attitude.

So where does society start with making an attitude change? Just like smoking, that was socially acceptable for centuries, telling addicts (tobacco being an addiction) that smoking is bad for your health means nothing, even if it is true. Telling them second hand smoke is harmful to your children or anyone around you when you smoke means nothing because humans are notoriously selfish so they would rather smoke than worry what harm their habit may be causing. BUT, having society “shun” smokers, making them feel like misfits in society, making the act of smoking socially unacceptable… look at the change today? Society has communicated that a smoker is not accepted in society or treated the same as a non-smoker. Whether one agrees with it or not, society has made it clear that smokers are no longer given the same advantages/opportunities as a non-smoker. It didn’t happen over night, but it has happened in my lifetime… all in the last 30 years.

Now society must work on Bullying and making that just as unacceptable as smoking. It all starts with communication and awareness. We now have tools we didn’t have 30 years ago. We have the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and of course, the media. It starts with talk, with campaigns such as “it gets better”, the Trevor Project, Pink Shirt Day and anything else that will make people aware bullying is not acceptable and is not going to go away. It’s the start… and with technology, it’s going viral. The bullies will disagree and put up a fight because they, like all of us, do not want to be told our beliefs and upbringing is wrong, but in the end, we all want to be accepted by our friends and society. There will always be those who don’t follow society’s rules, but we are at the start of making an attitude change in society and I think it will go a lot faster because of the speed of technology/communication. So for everyone who agrees that society NEEDS to make bullying socially (and legally) unacceptable, then we must encourage and applaud all forms of communicating and creating awareness :)

(sorry for the length… I get quite passionate about making changes in society that I believe are important and have a chance of
Becoming a reality) ;)
Cheryl recently posted..Monday, February 13th, 2012 – So behind… do you remember me? :)

Skye DonaldFebruary 29th, 2012 at 1:44 pm

I too was bullied as a child & teen, Raul, and I find Pink Shirt Day & anti-bullying movement leave me feeling hollow rather than hopeful or vindicated. I like the idea. I’m wearing a pink shirt today. I want my nephews to be safe and comfortable at school and in the world. I want the ideals of today to translate into changed behaviour for tomorrow and the day after that, through the years to come. I want to believe that there has been a genuine change in the way that schools approach this matter, but when I see the term “bullying” being tossed around by people (leaders, even!) in response to things like political action or rhetoric that they just don’t like, I get cynical. It’s like it is the new catch-phrase for all things evil and unpleasant.

Bullying almost killed me. I was bullied at school and at home. I have found it easier to forgive the people that tormented me (fellow students & family members) than to forgive those the teachers and administrators that allowed it to happen. I have experience the same frustrations as an adult when leadership in organisations or businesses don’t take action to deal with inappropriate behaviour.

My mother didn’t have the tools to help me. She went to the school to ask for help, and none was given. When the school didn’t help, my mother asked for help at church, and I was invited to join the adult choir at just 12 years old. I might not have fit in with my peers, but a bunch of seniors made me feel like I was the most special person in the world. As it turns out, I was pretty good at singing ;) , and they helped me spiritually and financially to continue to study music. When bullying almost killed me, my love of music and my newly-born nephew were the only things I could think of that were worth living for.

MJ AnkenmanFebruary 29th, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Well said Raul. I do believe campaigns like this do increase awareness to those like myself not directly connected with what ever the cause is. I think it is important to remind and educate all to what really needs to be done. Thanks for speaking out.

RaulFebruary 29th, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Thanks everyone for commenting. One point to Cheryl’s point

So for everyone who agrees that society NEEDS to make bullying socially (and legally) unacceptable, then we must encourage and applaud all forms of communicating and creating awareness

I am not sure every form of awareness-raising is the proper form of awareness raising, and frankly, I don’t want to applaud all forms, because I would be unfaithful to my principles. I will encourage those forms of awareness-raising that I think are well-designed and have much more than good intentions and rainbows and unicorns :)

Brian WebbMarch 1st, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Thanks Raul for the post. Like you, growing up I was bullied. I like your approach of throwing it back at them. So many people from my home town community have reached out to me in their support of my recent public stories… and you have made me think… you’re totally right… these people weren’t helpful – in fact, they were the ones that bullied me… and I think I need to get that off my chest to them. Thanks!

MariaMarch 2nd, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Thanks Raul, your post is lovely. I am struggling with this issue. I wasn’t bullied as a girl, but I came home crying many days because I could not bear what was happening to kids in my school. I went to a parents meeting for my child in high school this week and shared simply that I was concerned that social exclusion was hurting some of the kids in her class. When the teacher then concurred and described (without naming names) examples of blatent social aggression–every single parent defended the behaviour of their socially aggressive children and not one word of empathy was expressed for the victims that the teacher described. It was as though the parents and teens had so efficiently dehumanized the victims that they could only experience their own children being victimized because the teacher was saying “this is not ok and it is happening in our class”. No-one blamed their kids or them, the only comment was that some kids were openly ridiculing other kids. The reaction broke my heart. Your story is very touching, but the truth for so many victimized children is that they do not have families that can support them in that way. Who is helping those kids? I know even for my daughter, as a single mother of 4 who left an abusive situation and is struggling to make ends meet and get my education so I can continue to support them I have not been there for her as I wish I could be…social aggression is linked to higher rates of suicide for girls and I just learned that more teens die from suicide than any illness or disease. I feel like I have an obligation to advocate for support for every kid that does not have a great family like you did, but I just don’t know how to do so…your success story is very inspirational and I will share it with my teens for sure. You are a perfect example of someone who is not a victim, you are a survivor.

Andrea CoutuMarch 3rd, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I believe bullying causes trauma. I believe that people who bully other kids should be charged with any applicable crimes, such as assault, sexual assault, uttering threats and so on. And I believe that telling kids it gets better is a pretty precarious thing. Waiting five years for it to get better is a heck of a long time. I know we want to give kids hope – that someone who’s suicidal needs hope. But, omg, in the minute…waiting for it to get better may be too much.

I was lucky. I waited. It got better. But certainly not because of my school or teachers. It got better because I got the heck away from that forsaken town and moved to a city where people are ALLOWED to be different and where what was “freaky” in my small town is NORMAL.

It warms my heart that, at my children’s school, the principal jumps right on any bullying. She follows up with the child who’s been bullied and the parents of both. She works out a plan. And she also probes to find out what is causing the kid to bully. This gives me great hope…that people are working for change. That this may not go on for millenia. That more children may survive their teen years because an administrator cared.

No More Bullies | Vanilla Bean BakerMarch 5th, 2012 at 4:01 am

[...] been seeing a lot more blog posts of late, both in Canada and elsewhere, being written about bullying and the efforts to affect a change for the better. [...]

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