Not "a nation of immigrants" Settler colonialism, white supremacy, and a history of erasure and exclusion

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 1938-

Book - 2021

Whether in political debates or discussions about immigration around the kitchen table, many Americans, regardless of party affiliation, will say proudly that we are a nation of immigrants. In this bold new book, historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz asserts this ideology is harmful and dishonest because it serves to mask and diminish the US's history of settler colonialism, genocide, white supremacy, slavery, and structural inequality, all of which we still grapple with today. She explains that t...he idea that we are living in a land of opportunity--founded and built by immigrants--was a convenient response by the ruling class and its brain trust to the 1960s demands for decolonialization, justice, reparations, and social equality. Moreover, Dunbar-Ortiz charges that this feel good--but inaccurate--story promotes a benign narrative of progress, obscuring that the country was founded in violence as a settler state, and imperialist since its inception. While some of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, others are descendants of white settlers who arrived as colonizers to displace those who were here since time immemorial, and still others are descendants of those who were kidnapped and forced here against their will. This paradigm shifting new book charges that we need to stop believing and perpetuating this simplistic and ahistorical idea and embrace the real (and often horrific) history of the United States.

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Subjects
Published
Boston : Beacon Press [2021]
Language
English
Physical Description
xxvii, 362 pages ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780807036297
0807036293
Main Author
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 1938- (author)
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Settler colonialism
  • Arrivants
  • Continental imperialism
  • Irish settling
  • Americanizing Columbus
  • "Yellow Peril"
  • The border.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* The Broadway smash-hit Hamilton reinforces a narrative evoked by presidents from Kennedy to Obama proclaiming the U.S. to be a "nation of immigrants." Wrong, says Dunbar-Ortiz, presenting a more truthful, appropriately overwhelming history of the nation called the United States. The U.S. was not founded by immigrants but rather by colonizers enacting genocide through policy, war, and enslavement, which enabled the colonists to settle and falsely self-indigenize. Readers will be challenged and may need to read slowly and reread. Each chapter is densely packed with historical research, focusing, in turn, on this repeated pattern regarding enslaved African arrivants, the colonized then made-white Irish, people of Asian origin attributed with "yellow peril," native people in taken lands now called Mexico, the American West, Appalachia, Hawaii, Alaska, and everywhere the U.S. now exists. Dunbar-Ortiz hopes to empower modern citizens with the knowledge and skills to dismantle what she convincingly argues is a fiscal-military state. Her thought-work and writing are both full-force with courage and wisdom. In the age of telling truth, she says, the U.S. has yet to correct its narrative to acknowledge its settler-colonialist and imperialist past and present. This book should be taught in classrooms; readers will finish it changed. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The latest book by historian Dunbar-Ortiz (professor emerita, ethnic studies, California State Univ., Hayward; An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States) provides a critical reframing of U.S. history, specifically analyzing how immigration narratives have impacted and continue to shape the country. She challenges readers to question their beliefs and consider what it means when the United States lauds its immigrant roots—and what that narrative leaves out. After beginning with a critique of the musical Hamilton, the author examines genocidal treatment of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. over the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries and of people from the African continent who were violently transported to the American colonies. Dunbar-Ortiz also discusses the experiences of race and assimilation of various immigrant groups from Europe, Asia, and Latin America, plus a brief section on Jewish immigration to the U.S. during the 19th century. Dunbar-Ortiz's message is clear: uplifting narratives about the United States as a "nation of immigrants" allow the country to hide from its history of colonialism, genocide, slavery, and racism. VERDICT A dense account covering a vast range of topics; overall, a great contribution to the study of U.S. history. Though it's better suited to scholars than casual readers, this thought-provoking account will prove insightful for all.—Sarah Schroeder, Univ. of Washington Bothell Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Historian Dunbar-Ortiz (An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States) gives the lie to America's self-image as an immigrant nation in this fiery account. She casts the current surge of populism as the latest episode in a history of U.S. nativism that stretches back before the nation's founding, and contends that America only welcomes immigrants when they can be exploited or recruited to its project of settler colonialism, which was "grounded in the violent theft of land and in racial slavery." She also deconstructs the musical Hamilton to show how it ignores the fact that Alexander Hamilton opposed immigration and owned slaves, and describes how people of Scots-Irish descent dispossessed Native Americans and then claimed themselves as indigenous to the regions they settled. Discussing waves of Irish, Italian, Jewish, Asian, and Hispanic immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries, Dunbar-Ortiz explains how each group fled persecution and poverty only to face racial, ethnic, and religious intolerance from previous U.S. settlers. Dunbar-Ortiz's careful recounting of the suffering and complicity of each group is skillfully done, though the leaps from one historical time period to the next can be jarring. This impassioned and well-documented history pulls no punches. (Aug.) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

In her thought-provoking new book, a historian debunks the pervasive and self-congratulatory myth that our country is proudly founded by and for immigrants, and urges readers to embrace a more complex and honest history of the United States

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"The common assumption that the United States is a "nation of immigrants" camouflages the reality that the US is a colonialist settler state"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Debunks the pervasive and self-congratulatory myth that our country is proudly founded by and for immigrants, and urges readers to embrace a more complex and honest history of the United StatesWhether in political debates or discussions about immigration around the kitchen table, many Americans, regardless of party affiliation, will say proudly that we are a nation of immigrants. In this bold new book, historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz asserts this ideology is harmful and dishonest because it serves to mask and diminish the US’s history of settler colonialism, genocide, white supremacy, slavery, and structural inequality, all of which we still grapple with today.She explains that the idea that we are living in a land of opportunity—founded and built by immigrants—was a convenient response by the ruling class and its brain trust to the 1960s demands for decolonialization, justice, reparations, and social equality. Moreover, Dunbar-Ortiz charges that this feel good—but inaccurate—story promotes a benign narrative of progress, obscuring that the country was founded in violence as a settler state, and imperialist since its inception.While some of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, others are descendants of white settlers who arrived as colonizers to displace those who were here since time immemorial, and still others are descendants of those who were kidnapped and forced here against their will. This paradigm shifting new book from the highly acclaimed author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States charges that we need to stop believing and perpetuating this simplistic and a historical idea and embrace the real (and often horrific) history of the United States.