Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Miserables” tells the story of a group of students in 19th century Paris rising up against their government. The students fought in a violent rebellion, but the uprising was put out by the French government before a change could be made. Hugo’s story doesn’t ask whether or not the students should have rebelled, but instead asks what causes are worth living and dying for.
On Wednesday, a group of students stood up for what they believed in, the Black Lives Matter movement, just like the students in “Les Miserables.” When I watch the play, I feel empowered, but when I went to the Black Lives Matter forum, I didn’t feel empowered. Because I’m part-white, part-Hispanic, I don’t really fit into either a majority or minority category.
Maybe you also feel confused about Black Lives Matter. Maybe it makes you uncomfortable to see people wearing t-shirts and supporting this movement, which has been considered both beneficial and violent by different parties. You’re not alone.
Here’s a few things I learned from last night’s forum:
- It’s not the phrase that makes people uncomfortable, it’s the group. It’s easy to look at an individual person and say “I love you and you matter.” But it’s difficult to look at a group and say the same thing. Just like being the unpopular kid in middle school, not being a part of the group in the Black Lives Matter movement makes it difficult to sympathize.
- Being uncomfortable is part of college, but it’s not easy. We didn’t come to college to agree about everything. We came to college to learn, so we shouldn’t be angered by the university choosing to discuss this issue. However, facing all of your emotions about this, especially when it has so much to do with your identity, can be hard for everyone involved.
- The Black Lives Matter movement should make us think about our values. Like the characters in “Les Miserables,” we have to make a choice about what we are willing to fight for. If you disagree with the university’s decision to host the forum, do you believe it’s worth fighting about? As a black student, do you believe Black Lives Matter should be valued or do you have other causes to fight for? As students, we should devote ourselves to causes worthy of our time and energy. Maybe you don’t agree with Black Lives Matter, but maybe this week’s discussion topic should encourage you to stand up for the cause you do believe in.
In the musical version of the “Les Miserables”, adapted for the stage in 1985, one of the student leaders sings about this very idea. He says, “It is time for us all to decide who we are. Do we fight for the right to a night at the opera now? Have you asked of yourselves, what’s the price you might pay? Is this simply a game for a rich young boy to play? The colours of the world are changing day by day.” (“ABC Café / Red And Black”)