“It’s cool to be kind”: actions, not just words

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Sometimes a confrontation being hard shows that it’s necessary. arthur edelman via Unsplash

From anxiety to accountability

Do you remember the cheesyphrase our middle school teachers used to say? “It’s cool to be kind.” We heard that, but when we left the classroom, the kids that were “cool” or “popular” were the ones moving on to shove other kids into lockers, corner people in the bathroom, and using derogatory language and slurs on the playground. Meanwhile, that same teacher who was preaching “it’s cool to be kind?” They turned a blind eye and said nothing. I really hope you don’t have this vivid memory from your time in school – but I do.

Racism, homophobia, transphobia, and marginalization of anyone who didn’t fit the social “norm” has become a defining trait of the small town (and rural area) I grew up in. That makes calling it out super difficult at times.

Raised in a big, blended, bi-racial family where I was the only white sibling, I didn’t see people of colour as separate from myself. What’s more, being in a big Ontario city for my first few years of school meant that diversity was very normal; we learned about an array of religions and traditions, were taught about equality and inclusivity, and I saw all of my peers as equals. None of us were born with a racist worldview. Obviously, racism still exists in big cities, but as a kid it wasn’t so blatant that I couldn’t escape it. When we moved to small town southern Manitoba, however, things changed, and I witnessed a whole new world full of hate and prejudice.

Calling out racism in this environment has been a long journey for me, beginning with a 12-year-old me who joined in with the bullies because I wanted to fit in at my new school, even though the anxiety made me feel physically ill. Now, a 19-year-old me is never scared. I don’t even think twice before calling someone out for using derogatory language or racially profiling someone, regardless of the setting. With practise, these things do become possible.

I have had many conversations with my peers about their choice of language, conversations that, though uncomfortable, are necessary to have. I’ve talked to them about how the “n-word pass” does not exist, how mocking a person’s accent is indeed racist, and that making assumptions about someone strictly based on the colour of their skin is not fair or correct.

These conversations are far too often responded to by even our close friends with: “well, I am not racist,” “it’s just a joke,” etc. People often become very uncomfortable and defensive when you call them out on their racist actions/words, but I have found that the conversation can go very differently depending upon how I approach the conversation.

It is important to remember not to alienate people or just make them feel stupid (even if you think they are). I do my best to instead connect with them and explain my family’s experiences. Those experiences can say a lot: the way my little brother, at less than a year old, was called the n-word by an old man, how my dad has faced the horrors of police brutality, and how those events have led to my family members feeling unsafe in their own community. I chose to not show my anger, hurt and sadness, but rather attempt to build a bridge for the person and hope they will become less ignorant. When we have the time and patience to offer in those situations, it can make a difference.

My teacher in school preached that “it’s cool to be kind,” but she did not follow her words with actions. Because of that, a 12-year-old me went against everything I believed in and the safety of my own family, just to be “cool.” But now, I believe that it is my responsibility as a person of privilege to educate others like me on the effects of their actions and make it known that I am a safe person to be around.

It’s cool to be kind, folks. The true meaning of that phrase is to put it into action.

Reese Estwick

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