Notes on Power in a Pandemic

Grappling with the uncertainties of the way we are living now

Roxane Gay
Apr 3, 2020 · 9 min read
Credit: Alessandro Vasari/Archivio Vasari/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

1.

We live in a democracy or, at least, that is what we tell ourselves. In a democracy, we have the power of our vote. We are individuals, but we have a say in who represents us at the city, state, and national levels. It’s hard, however, to believe in the power of the vote when a presidential candidate wins the most votes but still loses the election. It is hard to believe in the power of the vote, when time and again, a singular demographic is elevated to the detriment of far better candidates.

As 2020 began, the election was all anyone was talking about because so much is at stake in November. Donald Trump serving a second term is not a viable option even though it is improbably likely. And then a pandemic reshaped our lives in an instant. One university closed and then all of the universities closed. Schools moved online. People began tele-commuting when it was at all possible. All of a sudden, the election didn’t seem to matter while also mattering more than ever.

One day life was normal and the very next, people throughout the world were isolated, worried about everything, watching the news, trying to stay safe, trying to stay healthy. We have no real sense of when we will be able to return to the rhythms of our regular lives. There is a danger out there and it is one we cannot see or smell, taste or touch. We are utterly powerless and vulnerable and terrified together but apart.

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At least once a day I am convinced I have the ‘rona. I hold my breath for twenty seconds because I read some nonsense online about how that’s an informal way to test for the virus. I know this is not true, and still, I hold my breath. All the handwashing we are told to do has my hands sore and dry. I slather them in lotion but then I interact with the outside world and have to wash my hands all over again. Sometimes, I stare out the front window at neighbors walking themselves, their pets, their children. My neighbors had a cocktail party of sorts, everyone sitting in their lawn chairs on the driveway, six feet apart. Going out for provisions has become quite the thrilling affair, something to look forward to, something that is nonetheless fraught. Things I have been unable to find with any sort of consistency: hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, bottled water, toilet paper, butter, flour, yeast, thermometers but still, the grocery stores in my neighborhood are reasonably well stocked and orderly. We stand in line to enter, six feet apart and try to maintain respectful distances around one another as we reach for fresh tomatoes and radicchio and a significant quantity of alcohol.

Anytime I see other people, I marvel at how all the rules for how we should dress and appear in public no longer exist. It’s chaos. I see people in pajamas, outlandishly mismatched clothes, wild hair, puffy slippers, ugly boots. “This,” I think, “is how we would always look if we didn’t care what other people think.” I am an introvert and something of a loner or, I thought I was. The days are endless. There is so much time that demands to be filled.

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Because the current American president is a disgrace, an incompetent, idiotic buffoon, the country is unmoored. Each day, he holds an interminable press conference and brags about his “ratings” and lies about the progress being made to deal with the pandemic and puts lives in danger with nonsensical ambitions like filling churches around the country on Easter Sunday. He is only concerned with his boundless ego and the economy but only insofar as he can continue to accumulate wealth. He does these things because he can, because he is the most powerful man in the world. He is a constant reminder that power, in the hands of the incapable, is a dangerous and grotesque thing.

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Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most…

Roxane Gay

Written by

I write. I want a tiny baby elephant. If you clap, I clap back. Books.: Ayiti, Untamed State, Bad Feminist. Difficult Women, World of Wakanda 1–5, Hunger.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

Roxane Gay

Written by

I write. I want a tiny baby elephant. If you clap, I clap back. Books.: Ayiti, Untamed State, Bad Feminist. Difficult Women, World of Wakanda 1–5, Hunger.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

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