Since Tuesday, September 5, I have been abandoned by United and stranded in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, which is an overseas British possession. In the five days since Hurricane Irma made landfall on the island, I have seen some things. While there are many notable things about experiencing the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever, the one thing that has stuck out the most is the privilege and entitlement with which white tourists have approached the situation.
In addition to seeing some meteorologically interesting things, I have seen some amazing (and crazy) interesting things (putting it very nicely). Here are a few snippets of the ugly side of privilege (I have included resort examples because I will not fool myself into thinking that these luxury resorts are owned by people of color):
- On Tuesday, two days before the storm struck the island, a white British woman and man walked past the entire security line demanding to be let through first because they “needed to get home.” It almost worked, until security realized that they didn’t even have boarding passes!
- The Alexandra Resort, even though it was not fully booked, turned away locals looking for shelter because they had a “policy” of holding un-booked rooms with preference for villa owners IN CASE they decided to seek comfortable shelter from the storm. According to some of the locals, many of these rooms remained empty.
- After the storm hit, the resort where I was stranded – along with much of the island – lost power and running water. On Friday, while resort staff was still trying to stave some of the immediate effects of the hurricane (i.e., flooding), a white Canadian woman was yelling at a staff member about being inconvenienced and having to leave her room (part of the roof blew off). She then continued to lament how appalled she was that the hotel could not provide running water because she needed to wash her face and take a shower.
- A local woman came into the lobby on Friday and asked those of us sitting there how we were doing. A white French woman began complaining about the hotel conditions and how inconvenienced she has been. The woman said that she is glad those were her only troubles. She was looking for a room because of her six-room home, only one room was left standing after the storm. The French woman replied: “Oh, well I’m sure insurance will cover you.” The woman gave her a look. The French woman continues: “You weren’t insured? Why weren’t you insured?”
- The Beaches resort apparently has power and running water, because they have the privilege of being on their own grid. In true privileged fashion, they have continued to light the trees and other unnecessary things. This is a complete slap in the face to all of the residents in the shantytowns and areas that are powerless, waterless, and may or may not have reliable shelter and a roof over their heads. I’ll even go so far as to say it is a slap in the face to everyone that cannot afford the hundreds of dollars per night that it costs to stay there.
It it both amazing and unsurprising the way in which people are behaving. While it is strangely comforting to know that it is not just in the US where white people act with blatant disregard for the humanity of people of color, it also makes it that much more discouraging that where there are white people it is likely that an ethnocentric, racist, classist, colonialist ignorance will follow.