Why US Virgin Islanders Say They Feel Like America’s ‘Bastard Stepchildren’ After Hurricane Irma

Several houses damaged by Hurricane Irma in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, on Sept. 7, 2017 (Ian Brown/AP Images)
Several houses damaged by Hurricane Irma in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, on Sept. 7, 2017 (Ian Brown/AP Images)

Although the U.S. Virgin Islands, which include St. John, St. Croix and St. Thomas, are part of the United States, many in the islands felt nonexistent as mainstream media covered Hurricane Irma’s trajectory with nary a mention of the territories where many Americans gladly sun-and-fun sans passport.


There was talk of how Irma was affecting Florida and “the Caribbean,” but according to local Laurel Brannick, “they didn’t even include us.”

The Miami Herald reports that Irma’s destruction of the U.S. Virgin Islands cannot even yet be quantified because the storm has destroyed most of its means of communication. Not only were hotels ripped from their foundations, but there are reports that St. Thomas and St. John have been stripped bare of vegetation, and that “pieces of cars and boats dangle from dead power lines.”


The U.S. military, in conjunction with the government of Puerto Rico, has airlifted more than 1,800 U.S. citizens from the Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Antigua and Dominica since the hurricane hit, and a Royal Caribbean cruise ship carrying passengers from St. Thomas and St. Martin is also expected to be arriving in Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, there are also reports of looting and arson that have only served to increase the islands’ isolation. The Herald reports that as locals waited for food and help to arrive this week, they fended for themselves. Two of the remaining restaurants in St. John were feeding hundreds of people for free.

Matt Gyuraki, a 35-year-old information technology specialist, wondered why there wasn’t more of a coordinated effort from the United States.

“It feels like we’re the bastard stepchildren of America, and now nobody wants to help us,” he told the Herald. “America wanted us at one time, but now they really don’t.”


In addition, a dearth of news coverage has not helped the people’s plight on the islands.

A Change.org petition was started on Sunday, calling out CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox News for their obvious lack of coverage of the unincorporated U.S. territory, which is home to more than 100,000 Americans, 76 percent of whom are black.


“These people are American citizens, and they need our help! Please help us secure more media coverage of their needs and fundraising opportunities,” the petition reads in part. “All we are asking is to include these relief efforts in the landscape of the overall broadcasting.”

It also outlined three “reputable” organizations for those who wish to help:

  1. St. John Community Foundation
  2. St. John Rescue, Inc.
  3. St. John Animal Care Center

As of press time, the petition had garnered more than 30,000 signatures.

And on Wednesday, the organizer updated the plea, saying that the petition made a difference:

We are excited to announce that our petition has helped provide more media coverage for the Virgin Islands. Our efforts, added to those of people who have contacted local media outlets and government officials, has resulted in dozens of articles/features from sources such as Rachel Maddox on MSNBC, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Fox News, ABC. News, Condé Nast, and the list goes on.


Sometimes it seems as if folks in the U.S. media need to be reminded again and again: Black lives matter.

Read more at the Miami Herald.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.



This administration probably thinks that it’s/they’re someone else’s problem. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if most of them didn’t know that we’re responsible as a country for our territories and possessions just as much as we are the various states.