The initial path they took was through the following islands: Barbados, St. Kitts, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Dominica, and many others. That trail of destruction was far, and wide; the impact was tremendous, and devastation will be long-lasting.
For so many Black people living in the United States, we can directly trace our generational ties that connect us to the complicated history of the Caribbean. The legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Colonialism continues to have a lasting impact as most countries have not reconciled and recovered from their brutal past. Those wounds manifested in various exploitative forms, including tourism, which has been a defining marker of Caribbean culture and economies. Increased travel in and out of the region would also contribute to the ‘brain drain,’ as some of the top professionals including craftsmen, lawyers, and doctors, left their homes with sights on settling new opportunities abroad. There was a splintering off throughout the region as migration took shape, helping to form cultural identities even further removed from their African diasporic origins.
Fast forward to today, what keeps so many of us up at night are the friends and loved ones we know with immediate family ties to the affected areas. Not only several generations removed, but also parents, cousins, aunts, and god-children. They’re the ones sharing Facebook posts, crowd sourcing campaigns, Instagram stories, and retweets from folks, many of whom are on the ground providing real-time updates as hurricanes approach.
You don’t need to be a climate scientist to understand this year’s hurricane season is not normal, and that global warming is the culprit. That a hurricane can go from a Category 1, to a Category 5 in less than 48 hours, such as Hurricane Maria, is unprecedented. On August 30th, Hurricane Irma formed. It was the second major hurricane of the 2017 season. Roughly fifteen days later, the entire island of Barbuda; a population of just under one hundred thousand people, was evacuated. NOBODY IS LIVING ON THE ISLAND OF BARBUDA.
When a crisis of this magnitude occurs, as pertinent information becomes lost in the news cycle, the burden traditionally falls on locals to raise awareness. In the aftermath, the immediate concern turns to the well-being of people, the ability to take care of those in need of medical assistance. This includes providing shelter, food, and necessary aid to help them from day-to-day. The Twitter snapshot on day one after the storm for each of these impacted is one thing, but what happens six months later?
Beyond the repair of human lives, what about restoration of infrastructure? According to the World Bank 2016 numbers, the collective GDP for Antigua and Barbuda is 1.4B, Dominica’s is 525M. Absent tourism dollars flowing, and factories and entrepreneurs producing goods and services to support locally and to send abroad, what happens that country’s economy? When entire records offices are destroyed, what accounts for property rights and land ownership? How is a child’s education impacted when their school no longer exists? How do we ensure locally run medical systems are available and adequate to serve the most urgent of needs under the most urgent of circumstances? And what about the potential for exploitation by those seeking to take advantage of so called “disaster capitalism”; to swoop down and make land grabs in moments of chaos, confusion, and little communication. What does that mean for lost generational wealth, amongst some communities for whom their land and property were their most valuable assets?
What is being done about resource allocation, displacement, and most importantly, protection? What will this mean in the context of a government whose platform is tightening up our borders, as opposed to more clearly defining our connectedness? How do we properly come together to respond, and develop effective policies for solutions? There is no easy answer, but we must remain aware of the intersectionality of these many issues, whose impact will continue to be felt long after the hurricane has touched down. How we frame the questions we are seeking answers to, and who are at the center of those questions, will be critical in the wake of this developing new normal around climate change.
There is a collective and mutual responsibility to take care of other Black communities, and those with diasporic ties to areas across the Caribbean. As the saying goes, ‘we may have all arrived in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.’ We have policy experts, we have designers and planners, we have government officials, we have immigration lawyers, doctors, teachers, small business owners, entrepreneurs, influencers, and everyday men and women among us simply willing to lend their time talent and treasure. This will not be a perfect process, but that should not limit our scope of what can be imagined. Now is the critical time for us to be honest and, in spite of the inefficiencies that will inevitably arise, to plan accordingly. We are a resilient people, this current administration continues to remind us of that. We also understand collaboration is critical in this process. We are enough to get started, so let’s go.