Roxane Gay on Global Racism and Whether She’ll Hold Her Nose and Vote for Biden
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because she’s one of the most influential literary figures today.
By Joshua Eferighe
Roxane Gay is not a prototypical influencer. She’s not on TikTok learning challenges nor does she spend time debating the best hour to post a selfie on Instagram. Even Twitter, where she’s creeping up to 1 million followers, is something she prefers to use less and less. “Nothing good ever happens on Twitter,” she says on the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show, hosted by OZY’s co-founder and CEO.
Gay, rather, is a content creator in the traditional sense — an analog influencer whose words, through novels, short stories and essays, have permeated the culture. In her books Bad Feminist, Difficult Women and Hunger: A Memoir of My Body, Gay approaches challenging topics with nuance and thoughtfulness and articulates them in a way many wish they could. When Gay speaks, people listen.
Which is why, with eyes upon her for thoughtful takes on the racial unrest in America, she points out that in her extensive travels, this is not just an American problem. “There is no country in this world I’ve been to that has not been profoundly racist, which has been very painful, because I love travel and I love learning about other cultures,” Gay says. She describes a visit to Egypt and seeing the pyramids as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience. Also, the misogyny was rampant, and you can’t overlook that. Australia is a deeply racist and misogynistic country at times.”
[Trump] doesn’t even do the job. He sits around, drinks Diet Coke and watches CNN.
Gay, who recently married her partner, Debbie Millman, has some typically stinging words for President Donald Trump, but she also expresses disappointment with former President Barack Obama. “I wish he would say more against Donald Trump publicly and really push back,” she says in the interview taped prior to Obama’s stinging speech at the Democratic National Convention. “This idea that there is this code among presidents is well and good, but Donald Trump doesn’t do anything presidential. He doesn’t even do the job. He sits around, drinks Diet Coke and watches CNN.”
Gay gives a tepid endorsement of the Democrats’ current nominee. “Joe Biden is who we have, so I think we have to do everything in our power to get Joe Biden elected,” she says. “And it makes me very frustrated to have to say that, especially given the sexual assault allegations against him, but anyone is better than Donald Trump.”
A contributing writer at the New York Times, Gay helped launch the groundswell that ended up with Opinion Editor James Bennet stepping down after the Times published an op-ed by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton about his prescription for riots following the death of George Floyd: “Send in the Troops.”
“When the paper of record publishes an editorial that suggests that American troops should keep Americans from lawfully protesting, it’s unlawful,” Gay says.
Gay wasn’t always such a fearless speaker. She grew up as a shy child in a Haitian household in Omaha, Nebraska, and didn’t start coming into her own until high school at the elite Phillips Exeter Academy (Andrew Yang was a classmate). Her literary prowess started at age 4, when she would draw villages on paper napkins, then write a narrative about who the people were. Her parents bought her a typewriter, and Gay hasn’t quit writing since.
Gay says she is still growing and becoming a better writer and stronger thinker. She’s juggling multiple endeavors, from her podcast, Hear to Slay, to movies to various writing projects. Up next is a comic book, The Ends, which she describes as “Batman without the morosity.”
- Joshua Eferighe