You Don’t Get What You Deserve — You Get What the World is Willing to Give You

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

At the climax of the latest Cinderella movie, Cinderella is crying outside because her stepmother has stopped her from going to the ball. After shedding countless tears, her fairy godmother arrives saying that because Cinderella is kind and courageous she will help her get to the ball and the happy ending she deserves. Sure, this is sweet but it’s complete bullshit and a toxic message to teach kids. I wish we lived in a fantasy world where fairy godmothers ensured kind people got nice things, but we don’t. In this world, Cinderella cries in the yard and that is how the story ends.

I know I sound like a cynic, but it’s true. Teaching children that working hard and being nice earns you a good life only sets those children up for disappointment and rage. As they age, they’ll likely discover a world holding a grudge against the things they can’t control. Daughters will grow into women who get passed over for promotions in favor of less-qualified men. Black children will discover that kindness won’t curve a bullet shot by a police officer who only sees the color of their skin. In this world, you don’t get what you deserve — you get what the world is willing to give you.

Photo by Cooper Baumgartner on Unsplash

I call this realization the Elijah McClain complex after the way his death rattled black people across America. It’s disturbing to think how numb we’ve all become to the blatant murders being committed on the streets, but nonetheless we have. We’ve been subtly fed the idea that these people deserved what they got. They messed up in some way by resisting arrest, affiliating with suspicious characters, or walking away. But McClain wasn’t like that. He was one of the ‘good’ black people. He worked as a massage therapist and was so kind he apologized for throwing up on the police officers who killed him. McClain’s death proves that the only thing he and these other victims did to get what they got was exist while black. No more and no less.

Photo by Ricardo Arce on Unsplash

His death is evidence that no amount of kindness, hard work, or perseverance can counter the centuries of prejudice stacked against us. And who wouldn’t be pissed off to discover that? I’m not saying the answer lies in the antithesis. This blog won’t preach a fuck-it nihilist rhetoric but something in the middle. The idea that you get what you deserve can only spark disappointment and wrath when we grow to discover it’s falsehood. Instead, we should teach kids to be accountable for their actions while acknowledging the systems built against them. It doesn’t matter how acceptable or comforting I present my blackness. I’m still black and in America, that’s a capital offense.

So let’s re-write Cinderella with this in mind. In our new version, she won’t cry and wait for a fairy godmother to save her nor will she ask her stepmother to treat her well. Our Cinderella will know that if she can’t earn her way to happiness with hard work and a smile, she’ll claw her way there with outspoken determination. She’ll demand just pay for her services or evict her stepfamily from her home — either way, she’ll stop waiting for what she deserves and simply take it.

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