Closing the Door on the Bahamas

Closing the Door on the Bahamas

Voices from the Editorial Collective

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

It’s amazing the way that the news cycle operates. A story can emerge that has great significance. Then, poof, it vanishes. This just about summarizes a story that emerged in September in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian’s devastation of the Bahamas. The story is a simple one:  The Trump Administration denied Temporary Protective Status to victims of the hurricane.

Temporary Protective Status is a U.S. provision that allows for victims of disasters to establish temporary residence in the United States. The fundamental idea is that such victims will return to their country of origin when there is a full recovery from the disaster. TPS has been applied to various populations and, during the Trump Administration, it has been canceled, including for Nicaraguans and Haitians.

One would think that in the aftermath of a disaster such as Hurricane Dorian, which leveled much of the Bahamas, TPS would be made available to those willing and able to leave the islands during the recovery. No such luck, as it turns out. The Trump Administration denied the request for TPS and even went so far as to question the alleged criminal background of many of the potential refugees.

This story made a flash when it happened but then vanished. No further discussion. In addition to the implications for the Bahamians that need TPS, the fact that this issue has largely vanished is illustrative of the manner in which the media loses interest in a story, how Trump’s outrages get taken for granted and how race factors into the dynamics of this administration.

Part of a Racist Agenda

Just as in the case of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the Hurricane Maria disaster, the Trump Administration has treated disasters affecting regions dominated by the “darker masses’” as unfortunate but not critical. In the case of the Bahamas, Trump’s default to discussing the possible criminal backgrounds of Bahamian applicants for TPS displays the naked racism of his overall framework, in addition to his playing to hardened white nativism that is very much a part of the cultural fabric of the United States.

A demand for TPS for Bahamian victims of Hurricane Dorian is a demand that needs to be made not only by those of us in the United States but by all parts of the African World. It is a demand against an administration that has described much of the global South as a so-called “shit hole.” It is a demand for the United States to address those who are the victims of a major humanitarian disaster.

Here is my final point: We cannot tire in the face of the racist, xenophobic outrages of the Trump Administration. We cannot afford to come to accept these outrages. We cannot allow them to be normalized. In the face of the outrages, we must respond with resistance and audacity. First, we must reject the normalization of racism ideologically, i.e., to fight this out in the court of public opinion. Bring the issue into the media and keep it there. In other words, don’t rely on the news media to keep our stories going.

At the same time, we cannot afford to give up on protest. One of the challenges that faced Puerto Rico, for instance, in the context of the austerity attacks followed by Hurricane Maria, was the lack of sustained protests on the U.S. mainland against what had been unfolding.

Yes, there was outrage at the racism of Trump throwing paper towels to the public, akin to throwing peanuts at elephants. But outrage is not enough. There needed to be (need to be) protests on Wall Street against the austerity and protests wherever Trump surfaces around the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

This is exactly the approach that needs to be followed in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian which, apparently, the Trump Administration would prefer that we forget. This is not just about supporting the people of the Bahamas. It is equally about those of us who wish to retain our humanity standing firm.


Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the executive editor of

Photo caption: Abaco Island and Marsh Harbour Bahamas on Sept. 5, 2019. The islands were devastated by Hurricane Dorian.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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