Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico more than two weeks ago. Some have even referred to the damage Puerto Rico has experienced as “apocalyptic.” CNN reported that Hurricane Maria had the level of winds of Irma and the flooding level of Harvey. It has crippled communications, destroyed buildings and damaged a dam that places downstream residents at risk of catastrophe.
San Juan Mayor Carman Yulín Cruz begged for help, letting America and the world know that “people are dying.”
President Trump responded by calling her a “nasty mayor,” and saying the people of Puerto Rico needed to help themselves and stop relying on others for help. Later, he minimized Puerto Ricans’ suffering by saying “Katrina was a real disaster.” Yes, it was. So is Maria, Harvey, Irma, and experts predict that Hurricane Nate will also be a “real disaster.”
Puerto Rico is a United States territory and its residents are Americans. More importantly, Hurricane Maria ripped homes from their foundations, homes where families resided. The land’s infrastructure crumbled under Maria’s weight. The hurricane isolated its victims by ripping away lines of communication and flooding Puerto Rican shores, making it near-impossible for the island to receive the aid its survivors need. Despite these disastrous circumstances, the commander-in-chief demanded Puerto Rico help itself.
Two weeks after the disaster, President Trump arrived on the island, to his own pomp and circumstance. He turned suffering into spectacle by throwing paper towels into the throngs of people looking to him for leadership and aid.
Let’s put this into perspective: Trump called Puerto Ricans too dependent; in other words, Puertorriqueños are lazy. He called the mayor of the capital of Puerto Rico a “nasty” mayor. He also called white supremacists and Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia “fine people,” further emboldening them to march proudly in their racism. This rhetoric left a woman dead when she and others were mowed down by one of those “fine people.”
Hurricane Maria left people of color to pick up the pieces in the wake of her wrath. President Trump used a natural disaster to further pathologize people of color. This tactic is not new or innovative. People of color have been deemed “problems” since British imperialism colonized North America. President Trump’s rhetoric, action, and inaction continue the tradition of an America that uses its power to make some people live their best lives while letting people of color die.