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The Race of Disaster: Black Communities and the Crisis in Puerto Rico

(Photo: Boys Fishing in Arroyo, Puerto Rico, Hilda Lloréns)

(Photo: Boys Fishing in Arroyo, Puerto Rico, Hilda Lloréns)

By: Hilda Lloréns

When Hurricane María made landfall in Puerto Rico in September 2017, it found a society long in the throes of a socio-political and economic crisis. In fact, economic downturns and recession coupled with waves of mass migration have been characteristic of the Puerto Rican experience since the early decades of American occupation. Predatory and vulture capitalists have circled and preyed on the colony since the second half of the twentieth century though the façade of political and economic stability began to officially unravel in the 1990s. Currently, philantrocapitalists interested in the island’s recovery dot the post-hurricane landscape.

Recent narratives have focused on the inability of the local and federal state to ameliorate the worsening social and economic conditions of island residents. While these powerful actors are central to concerns about Puerto Rico’s future, the fixation on the “top” and “center” socio-political spheres, in my view, run the danger of glossing over the myriad ways in which social sectors on the “bottom” or at the “margins” have been navigating the multiple economic, social, and political crises that have historically plagued them. With these assertions I am not suggesting that those who live on the margins of society are somehow exempt from suffering and hardship; rather I reveal how these individuals exercise their agency by crafting life affirming strategies that resist long-term oppressive systems, such as the racial capitalism with which Caribbean people have long grappled.

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