Why the U.S. Virgin Islands will never be a “State.”

For the past two decades or so, the Virgin Islands of the United States (USVI) has been discussing its status in relation to the United States and the rest of the world.  The USVI has tussled between independence, U.S. statehood, and continuing as an unincorporated territory.  Based on comments from Virgin Islanders regarding the recent runoff elections in Georgia, I am off the opinion that the USVI has no intention of creating its own “state of being” and prefers to remain an unincorporated territory.

Every Virgin Islander to a fault was emotionally invested in seeing the incumbent Georgia senator, Raphael Warnock, be returned to the U.S. Senate this coming January.  Mr Warnock was able to squeak out a 2.76 percentage point victory over Herschel Walker, the former University of Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy winner.  Virgin Islanders have been expressing elation for the past 24 hours and during that time I have been asking myself, “Why?”

Mr Warnock, to my knowledge, has not introduced or co-sponsored any legislation that supports the USVI.  Other than being invited to be the commencement speaker at the 2021 University of the Virgin Islands’ graduation ceremony, I have seen no political connection to the territory.

Virgin Islanders’ excitement over Mr Warnock appears to boil down to two things: race and pro-Democratic Party sentiment.

Although Mr Warnock’s opponent was black, the enchantment with Mr Warnock stems back to his special election win that seated him in the US Senate in 2021.  USVI governor Albert Bryan congratulated Mr Warnock for that win citing that Mr Warnock was not only the first black to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate, but was the first black Democrat from a southern state to be elected to the U.S. Senate.  

Governor Bryan did not pass up the opportunity to make the race connection, saying that his pride in Mr Warnock’s win was based on being, at the time, the “only Black governor in the United States.”  So important to the governor was the need to make the racial link that he was willing to overlook the fact that the USVI is not in the United States, but an unincorporated territory of the United States.

The aesthetics of race is used to connect blacks when it is convenient.  Culture, history, lineage, and geography separate black Americans from black Virgin Islanders.  That natural divide is quickly overlooked, however, where political points can be scored.

And speaking of politics, there is the irrational allegiance to political parties.  The USVI has a population of roughly 106,000 people.  In my opinion, that population cannot support or afford partisan politics.  During local elections in Atlanta, a city of almost 500,000, candidates do not run as Democrats or Republicans.  Why a smaller jurisdiction such as the USVI would resort to three political parties is beyond me.  Partisan politics only seeds more division in a resource-strapped jurisdiction where what is needed is more cooperation.

I can only argue that the USVI wants to take the opportunity to look more like the United States.

But wanting to look like the United States while espousing political allegiances with blacks with whom the territory’s blacks have no cultural, lineal, or historical ties results in a jurisdiction that has no identity of its own.  You need a self-identity in order to create a “state.”  The State is the source of a people’s philosophy and narrative.  The rules for how the people are governed spring out of the philosophy and narrative.  Without self-identity, the USVI settles for trying to be a carbon copy of the United States.

This lack of USVI self-identity works for the United States. The United States wishes to expand hegemony through its own Caribbean backyard.  The phrase on the license plate, “America’s Caribbean,” sums up the status of the USVI and signals that any self-identity that may lead to an independent State has to be regulated.  Fortunately for the United States, the inhabitants of the USVI are effectively regulating away any sense of self-identity.

No. The Virgin Islands of the Unted States will never be a “State.”

Alton Drew

8 December 2022

 For more of my writings, visit my author’s page at amazon.com/author/altondrew and purchase my latest book, “Take It from a Black Man. WASPs Need to Take Back Their Country. Essays on Capital, Democracy, and Political Narrative.”