Our Lives Matter

A Day in the Life


What does a day in my life look like? A black 17-year-old who lives in a predominantly white community. Well, it’s hard to explain.

It’s not just one day that makes up my thoughts and feelings. It’s many past days that culminate in my everyday thoughts and feelings. It starts off like any other teenager’s day.

I wake up, get dressed, and get ready for my day, pretty normal. I always have a pretty wide range of music playing whether it’s Stevie Wonder, Bach, the Eagles, or Bob Marley. Once I’m at school, I just go about my day moving from class to class, just like any other student. Except if we are watching a movie or a video. The teacher will go to shut off the lights in the class, and here comes the fear of the comments. The comments like, “Where did James go? Can anyone see James?”

I don’t take it to heart. It’s not like anything will happen in repercussions for whoever says it. I’ve lost the trust in telling my teachers when someone says something because what is gonna happen? Maybe I tell the teacher what the student said, and the teacher would make the student apologize. But it’s only a low-effort apology and the student looks down on me for "tattling." Or I tell the teacher and simply nothing happens. They just give the student a warning about it, and we all go about our day.

Now if I were to say something directly to whoever said the comment, I would get responses like “It’s just a joke, chill” or “Come on man, you know I don’t really mean it.”

But why joke about something like that? Something that makes someone feel different. Or isolated. I don’t see the joke.

You just get used to it. You feel like there is nothing you can do about it so why get worked up over it. Yes people need to know that it’s not OK to say stuff like that and I try to push to call people out when they say something they shouldn’t, but they never take it seriously or even listen. It’s frustrating to see it almost daily.

Another thing that I hear throughout the day is people saying the word slave. They will say “Be my slave” to their friends, or “I’m just slaving away.” I know it could mean a lot more than just what I think of the word. But when I hear it, I get this feeling through my body. This feeling of tension from just hearing it. It’s me thinking about how people are comparing carrying a backpack for someone to the indescribable dreadfulness that some of my ancestors went through for hundreds of years. I understand that they aren’t telling me it directly, and I am thankful for that. But the historical context for that word is what I think about whenever I hear this, and I wish people wouldn’t use it in their everyday vocabulary.

There are days I’ll be sitting in a class, and someone will say something racist to another student. When that happens, I always make an effort to stand up for or support the student. Most of the time, they just tell me to forget about it and that it’s fine. Now whether it’s really fine or not I don’t know, but what I see is them getting uncomfortable, but not feeling like they can speak up when something is said that they don’t like. I often tend to feel like I am being oversensitive. But it doesn’t come from me. It comes from other people. It comes from the times when I call someone out and the reaction I get makes me feel like I’m being overdramatic or attention-seeking. It’s the feeling that if something so incredibly small that is racist bugs me, I’m being sensitive.

And you know what, maybe it’s true. Maybe I am being sensitive. I’ve thought about it before, but how can I be sure? This makes me feel even more like I can’t say anything when someone says something I don’t like.

Why does all of this make me feel uncomfortable or even like an outsider? Part of it is that I find it strange that people talk to me or others in the way they do. That they say the things they do, not knowing it’s not OK to say stuff like that. Or they do it anyway without caring about how others feel when it’s said.

James McCourt is a junior at Gig Harbor High School. He lives in Vaughn.