What We’re Doing in Puerto Rico Is Racist, And It’s Not the First Time

A new study from Harvard researchers shows that over 4,600 people in Puerto Rico were killed because of Hurricane Maria – a count more than 70 times higher than the official government death toll of 64. This is how the government values black and brown lives – so little they can’t even count our bodies. Behind each of the 4,600 people who died were actual PEOPLE. People with families, stories, dreams, and lives cut short. Erasing them is wrong. It is racist. And I am tired of the US government oppressing its citizens in my name. These are not my values.

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit the heart of Puerto Rico resulting in major devastation throughout the island. President Donald Trump was slow to comment, eventually tweeting: “Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.” This reaction was in stark contrast to the hurricane in Texas where he stated: “My thoughts and prayers for those affected by Hurricane Harvey and the catastrophe of flooding and all of the other difficulties that they’re currently going through.” Through his words and actions, this President constantly prioritizes white lives over brown lives.

From examining his comments, it is clear Trump only sees the island as a failing investment. A deal that went belly up, the island is solely responsible for its failure in this line of thinking. His attitude mirrors the relationship of Puerto Rico and the US: both are based in the colonization of an island, both see value Puerto Rico solely for its resources and not for its people.

Puerto Rico isn’t the only place where racist politics create tragedy. With immigration, Trump continues to strip away individuals’ humanity to appease the racist tendencies of his followers. In May, the current administration announced that it would begin separating families caught trying to cross the border without documentation. This is devastating. The Trump administration’s has decided there are certain people who are worth “saving” and those who are not. And not just people, but children. Children who are often forced to live in detention centers without their families, when their only crime is seeking a better life.

Putting the consequences of “broken infrastructure” on the people of Puerto Rico or the violence in their home countries on immigrants, is not only unfair but steeped in the racism of colonization. Trump uses the same reasoning when he refers to the NFL players protesting as ungrateful millionaires that need to be “fired.” For President Donald Trump, black and brown lives are only an investment. Labor, service, and entertainment that should be served quietly without protest at all.

Our country continues to profit off black and brown lives when it benefits them. We watch those NFL games. We benefit from the cheap labor of immigrants. We take Puerto Rico’s $3 billion in taxes. However, when these systems start to fray, people of color are the first to fall, our very lives are thought of as expendable. We must stop this cycle and stand with those who are most vulnerable, whether at the border or just off the coast.