EDITORIAL: What's next for pink shirts and anti-bullying efforts?

When something subversive yet important is co-opted and adopted by almost everyone, does it still have meaning? Does it still have value?

That’s the question that can be asked now that Pink Shirt Day (today) has taken hold across North America.

In the last seven years, Pink Shirt Day has grown from a spontaneous and risky act of protest by a couple of students in a Nova Scotia high school to an international campaign that has inspired many.

It has spurred political action, spread awareness that bullying can be challenged with education and understanding, and generated thousands of dollars for anti-bullying programs. Millions now don pink T-shirts at their schools and workplaces to let people know they are against bullying.

But when has anyone ever been for bullying?

Bullying is an insidious cancer that has long existed in the human race. It is a kind of currency of exchange between powerful people and vulnerable challengers. It goes on behind closed doors, in back alleys and on the internet, but also out in the open in workplaces and classrooms.

It also must be recognized that for kids, bullying is nuanced behaviour stemming from deep-seated psychological issues, requiring sensitivity, not labelling.

Pink Shirt Day has undoubtedly been valuable in getting us to face up to the truth that society has long sanctioned bullying behaviour — rewarded it even, enabling bullies to become powerful people in the workplace, the executive suite and any place that individuals come together to collaborate and work.

But as a catalyst for change, has Pink Shirt Day run its course now that it is as ubiquitous as Santa Claus? Does the colour pink on everything from cars to cupcakes really help kids tormented by online trolls or workers cowed by bullying colleagues?

Spending money for programs to change behaviour and attitudes is a good thing. But it may be time for another subversive act of protest, something that kids themselves come up with that has nothing to do with adults and their agendas.


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