Hurricane exposes racial tensions on St. Martin
Published 8:12 am Tuesday, September 12, 2017
MARIGOT, St. Martin — In the chaotic days after Hurricane Irma smashed St. Martin, the storm also exposed simmering racial tensions on the island’s French territory, with some black and mixed-race residents complaining that white tourists were given priority during the evacuation.
It was the type of anger that has long plagued France’s far-flung former colonies — especially its Caribbean territories, where most of the population identifies as black and is poorer than the white minority.
Johana Soudiagom was disturbed to find herself among a tiny handful of non-whites evacuated by boat to nearby Guadeloupe after Irma devastated the island.
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“It’s selective. Excuse me, but we saw only mainlanders,” she told Guadeloupe 1ere television, visibly shaken. “That’s a way of saying, ‘I’m sorry, only whites. There are only whites on the boat.’”
It’s common practice for tourists to be evacuated first from disaster zones for practical reasons, as they are staying in hotels and not in their homes and tend to have fewer resources such as food and vehicles. The French prime minister insisted Monday that the only people being prioritized were the most vulnerable.