I’m Black, Gen X, and Built for Social Distancing
Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

I’m Black, Gen X, and Built for Social Distancing

Why the big fuss over quarantine?

Cardi B nailed it: Shit is getting real with coronavirus. As the pandemic has caused American public schools to shut down, triggered nationwide anxiety, and made toilet paper scarce (?!) in supermarkets around the country, we the people started warming up to the idea of self-isolation.

Bingeing shows on our favorite streaming services while burning through quarantine snacks too quickly became a collective coping experience. But in the midst of all the unprecedented madness that COVID-19 has popped off, Generation X is less bothered compared to millennials and, okay, boomers.

The possible reason takes me back to my own childhood as a latchkey kid. As a tweener, I outgrew my after-school babysitter at the same time my mom was set to give birth to one little brother (1979) after another (1981).

Since she was home with the baby bros, I ate Campbell’s soup and Devil Dog snacks at my own kitchen table for lunch hour on school days, and made it back home again by 3:00 p.m. after school — just in time for Adam West’s Batman or Battle of the Planets cartoons. But in another two years’ time, my mom opened up her own Christian bookstore. And I was home alone.

This meant my own shiny new pair of keys with which I’d let myself in after class and responsibly handle things solo until Mom or Dad showed up from work.

There was no internet rabbit hole to tumble down all by myself. Porn was limited to the poorly hidden Playboy magazines in our apartment. And I wouldn’t smoke my first cigarette till freshman year of high school. Being on my own meant unsupervised, unlimited Atari 400 gaming (Frogger! Galaxia!), boiling hot dogs, and getting my hip-hop fix by watching Video Music Box.

Substitute Ralph McDaniels’ music video show for, like, HBO’s Fraggle Rock — which I also watched — and it might sound like I grew up in suburban Scarsdale, New York, instead of the Boogie Down Bronx.

So to add some color (no pun intended), yes, there were dudes in the 33-story tenement buildings of our hood who’d shake down little kids like me for our change. Crackheads weren’t really a thing yet, not enough to be dangerous to 11-year-olds coming home by ourselves and chaining the doors shut. But next-door neighbors played more of an extended family role back then, watching our backs when we weren’t even aware. Bottom line: We weren’t scurred. Give us the couch, the cable, the ColecoVision, and we were straight.

The self-isolation directive brings a lot of us back to those latchkey days of keeping the door locked to all outsiders and waiting for the coast to be clear (that is, our parents’ arrival from the great outdoors).

These days are different. My own two latchkey-age sons have only ever known after-school programs that didn’t exist back when middle schools were known as junior high. Yesterday marked the first day of the school closings caused by the coronavirus outbreak—a shutdown due to last at least until April 20.

My wife caters events around the city most days (though the pandemic will change that very quickly), so me and my dynamic duo are feeling our way through living cooped up in the crib together all day long. My take on video games has evolved in parenthood, too. I already lost my temper at 9:00 a.m. in an extended debate over Nintendo Switch usage; this is not a vacation. But we’ve been to the supermarket for some fresh air to avoid cabin fever (because The Shining exists), the kids’ schools are already setting up Google Classroom, and I’ve got some classic Black cinema on tap (because Cooley High also exists). We’ll be just fine.

With rumors in the air about the United States going into full quarantine lockdown, nobody is completely unconcerned. Generationally, you’d expect baby boomers to be the most shook because coronavirus mortality rates are highest in their age range. Compared to boomers and Gen X, millennials have changed their spending habits the most since the coronavirus pandemic, opting for more online purchases of the necessities; analysts are calling them “the worry generation.”

But Generation X? The self-isolation directive brings a lot of us back to those latchkey days of keeping the door locked to all outsiders, curling up with must-see afternoon TV and copious snacks, and waiting for the coast to be clear (that is, our parents’ arrival from the great outdoors). We were built for self-quarantine in this age of corona. Bring on the Jay Electronica and Netflix. We’re ready to ride it out.