Cinderella, the timeless creation of the Brothers Grimm, chronicles the life of a lowly servant turned princess. This past weekend, I went to see the new adaptation of the film. The film was great, but I had no clue that “Cinder” Ella was an insult!
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a cinder is “a small piece of partly burned coal or wood that has stopped giving off flames, but still has combustible matter in it.” In other words, although the wood no longer holds a flame, it houses the potential to once again carry one.
In Ella’s case, her rekindled flame was a newfound love (Le’ Prince); in mine, it presents itself as an unwillingness to give up even when things get tough.
Welcome to my internal struggle…
Overcoming the Negative Stigma Associated with your Community
Watts, known for the Watts Towers, is the community that raised me. In this community, I experienced a lot of things. There were the usual challenges of violence, as well as a lack of financial, health and educational resources. But, there were also great things: family ties that go “way” back, passionate community activists, and a connectedness that cannot be rivaled.
Although I had a relatively positive experience growing up, I felt the effects of the negative stigma associated with Watts. The casual phrase, “Don’t become a statistic” was thrown around to act as a command, rather than as words of wisdom. When I left for college, I had a culture shock. Everything my classmates knew about Watts was based on images portrayed in the media. Essentially, we were all rioters, no-good “thugs” and “abusers” of the welfare system. We were seen as a people who were “lazy” and did not want better for ourselves. This ideology was far from the truth. In fact, some of the most influential people I’ve encountered came from my hometown.
The constant assumptions made it difficult for me while in college. I began to feel as though I had to prove something to the nay-sayers. As if, the work that I had put forth would negate this previous notion that all inhabitants of Watts were thugs, lazy and abusers.
You’ve made it! Graduated Magna Cum Laude… yet the struggle remains
Think the title says it all. I thought graduating from my university Magna Cum Laude would change the way others viewed me, but I was wrong. It did not matter that I graduated top of my class, or that I worked two jobs simultaneously while maintaining no less than a 3.8 GPA each semester, I still was not good enough. Or maybe, I just didn’t feel good enough. These feelings were magnified–you guessed it– as I prepped for my entrance into professional school.
The internal struggle no longer centered around the negative stigma associated with my community, rather it became one about qualifying my race. I am a black woman who graduated top of her class, and once more I felt the need to prove to my peers that my results were not simply due to my melanin content. I was baffled. I thought we lived in an era where the content that only mattered was your character’s?
That was it. The straw that broke the camel’s back. I had reached this “cinder” point. A point where I lacked the personal flame needed in order to persevere. I was “Cinder”ella, locked away in my attic of inadequacies and thoughts, and hoped for the day a prince would rekindle my flame.
My prince did not come in the form of a handsome man, rather in the form of a vast support system. When I feel inadequate, my friends and family offer me words of encouragements. They know EXACTLY what to say, and when to say it. Their words and love have helped to rekindle my flame, even when circumstances snuff them out. I know the struggle will continue, it’s bound to; at least I can hold on to the idea that even a cinder can regain its flame.
Lesson: I can not change the trials I’ll endure, but I can change my response to them.