The issue: Do Virgin Islanders have anything in common with the Original 13 colonies?
“Our territorial status is eerily similar to the status of the original 13 colonies to the British government. Today, the unequal footing of the territories in voting power, proximity to the mainland, funding formulas and resources of our country continue to keep the Virgin Islands from becoming all that we can be much as it kept colonial America from realizing its full potential. How can we herald the actions of our Founding Fathers while simultaneously depriving fellow Americans of the same rights those Founding Fathers fought so hard to achieve? Just as the colonists, we are subjected to the laws of an un-representational government. But just as the colonists, we will not stop fighting for the same representation that every other great American enjoys. A people who have made great contributions to this country — including Alexander Hamilton, Denmark Vessey, and Tim Duncan — still do not have equal citizenship. Democracy is not complete.” — Stacey Plaskett
Delegate Plaskett’s statement is driven by the struggle the Virgin Islands of the United States has been in for over a century over its status as an unincorporated territory of the United States. The statement also captures the emotional conflict within many Virgin Islanders; the conflict between embracing what we really are and the delusion we wish to hold on to.
The majority of Virgin Islanders are not descended from colonists …
According to the CIA World Factbook, approximately 76% of Virgin Islanders are black, likely descendants of slaves imported from Africa between the 17th and 19th centuries. They did not come to the West Indies with a charter from a monarch promising them land and religious freedom in exchange for their willingness and ability to extract resources and ship them back to their mother lands. This distinction is important because it helps us assess the mindsets of Virgin Islanders; a mindset not seeped in reality and continuously fed by a flawed “unrepresented colonist” model.
The unrepresented colonist model assumes that black Virgin Islanders in particular have some economic skin in the game i.e. ownership of the process and/or entities that allow for extraction and packaging of natural resources that are sent back to the metropole, in this case the United States. People of European descent are the major stakeholders in the Virgin Islands’ prime commercial industry, tourism. Given little to no ownership stake in this industry, black Virgin Islanders have no say in how this product is “packaged” and exported.
America’s “founding fathers” are not our founding fathers …
Virgin Islanders have such a need for belonging that they incorporate a narrative totally alien to their history and lineage into their view of themselves. To be American is to give short shrift to Virgin Islands or Caribbean history while immersing ones self in another’s history. Proximity to the U.S. mainland, tourism, and the infiltration of news and entertainment media have Virgin Islanders believing the United States is the best and only game in town, even though some surrounding independent island nations are doing better economically than the Virgin Islands.
There is an irony that Virgin Islanders would seek continued allegiance to a society that, won’t allow its administrative state and judiciary to vacate the Insular Cases race-based decisions to not extend full constitutional rights to the unincorporated territory that is the Virgin Islands of the United States. What type of “father” would do that to his children?
Conclusion: Persuade them or lead them …
What is often overlooked in US history is that the majority of American colonists were either indifferent or opposed to independence from Great Britain. In the last Virgin Islands referendum on status held in 1993, approximately 4.93% of voters supported independent status for the territory with the vast majority supporting the status quo i.e. unincorporated territorial status. As University of the Virgin Islands professor Malik Sekou noted in a paper written after the 1993 referendum on status, “The vast majority of the population has been staunchly pro-American, and any discussions that have involved losing or questioning U.S. citizenship have not been very fruitful.”
A political strategy that moves Virgin Islanders off of their staunch status quo position will have to involve major, unique, nuanced work on the mind.