Last year’s disasters have uprooted Black people from middle class status in the Virgin Islands
America sells itself as a place where hardworking people of different backgrounds thrive. America also sells middle class status as necessary for one’s recognized humanity. However, when nature wreaks havoc on middle class Black Americans, the country has an empathy gap between them and their non-Black middle class or affluent counterparts.
The Washington Post recently detailed how Hurricanes Irma and Maria destabilized life in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The report highlighted challenges for everyday people on the majority Black islands and how precarious it can be to rebuild tropical spaces that depend on tourism after violent storms. Seventy-two-year-old St. Thomas resident Charles Caines spent most of his life dutifully saving his paychecks to buy a house, a narrative to which many Americans relate. Yet, last year’s storms not only ripped the roof off of his home but also “blew him and an entire generation of Virgin Islanders out of the middle class,” according to the Post.
“I’m now going to die in debt,” Caines said. He predicts that home repairs will cost $100,000, which substantially exceeds his savings and projected insurance payout. “It feels like hell,” he said. “I didn’t get the assistance I needed, and now I’m out here suffering.”
“When a hurricane hits a small part of [a] very large state or country, you just move resources,” Damien King, an economist and executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, said. “On islands like the Virgin Islands, there is nowhere to move resources from.”
While mainland Americans exert political pressure on public servants to remember all Americans, including our people in the Caribbean, Michael Walker’s words displayed another seeming gap amidst calls for concern during post-storm recovery.
“Everyone was looking at Puerto Rico, and no one was thinking about us,” Walker said. At present, he lives in a leaky apartment and awaits a FEMA update on his aid application.