For Pink Shirt Day

Slightly belated, this post is related to Pink Shirt Day, which was on May 17, 2019.

I was super-excited to start high school. I was going to learn French and walk with my books tucked under my left arm. It would be the epitome of sophistication.

My parents decided that I would attend an Anglican girls’ school.  Even though none of my friends were going, I don’t recall being upset about it. As long as I could take French, and carry my books, I was happy.

Prior to high school, I had no idea that clothing had brands, or that some school bags were cooler than others, or that there were the ‘right’ bits of uniform to wear, or the ‘right’ way to wear bits of uniform. So maybe I stuck out from day one. Whatever it was, I never gelled in that place. I never made friends, I never found my tribe, I never got accepted into a group.

In fact, in ways only girls know how to be cruel, I was actively rejected. The group I would sometimes eat lunch with, would disappear off the face of the earth. My desk contents would be messed up. I would be the butt of the in-jokes.

But this post isn’t really about that. (Although, lengthy side note: I am incredibly grateful to have had these experiences in the early 1990s when there were no cellphones nor social media. Other than one night of obscene phone calls, when I left the school gate at 3:25pm, at least the bullying was done.)

Nor is it about the girls who chose these behaviours and who thought it was perfectly fine to treat another person in this way.

It’s about the crowd. Those faceless, nameless others in the class who knew full well what was going on. And did nothing. Absolutely nothing. These days, when I think about my high school experiences at all, this is what makes me mad. So when I see the message of this year’s Pink Shirt Day: ‘Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu’, for me these people are the target audience.

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I sometimes think that when we consider our responses to bullying we focus on the individuals concerned: the ‘victim’, the ‘bully’. I would prefer to see a focus on the culture that allows and condones the bullying behaviours in the first place. What makes me wild is not the lack of empathy for others, but the apathy of the crowd.

We say that actions speak louder than words. This is highly debatable in all kinds of contexts. But I think that it is true to say that sometimes what you don’t do speaks as loudly as what you do choose to do.