Beacon Press: Not "A Nation of Immigrants"
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Not "A Nation of Immigrants"

Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion

Author: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

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

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 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.
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“Her thought-work and writing are both full-force with courage and wisdom. In the age of telling truth, she says, the US 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.”
Booklist, Starred Review

“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 . . . . [T]his thought-provoking account will prove insightful for all.”
Library Journal

“This impassioned and well-documented history pulls no punches.”
Publishers Weekly

“Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz rightly argues that the United States is not ‘a nation of immigrants’ but, more accurately, a nation of colonizers. A must-read.”
—Nick Estes (Lakota), author of Our History Is the Future

Not ‘A Nation of Immigrants’ challenges to the core one of the most dominant narratives about the United States, as a country founded by and welcoming for immigrants. Dunbar-Ortiz’s captivating and accessible historical account forces a reckoning with the various layers of the US imperialist project, from territorial control to economic and political influence at the expense of Black populations, migrants, and Indigenous peoples. This myth-shattering book addresses one of the most pressing challenges of our time by demonstrating the implications of white supremacy across time, across groups and spaces, and the connections between them. If there is hope for transformation, it is through the careful, systematic work that this book exemplifies by examining the roots of racism and structural inequality, and bringing forward alternative narratives and movements. It is a must-read.”
—Alexandra Délano Alonso, author of México and Its Diaspora in the United States: Policies of Emigration Since 1848

“This book is meticulously researched and written with eloquence and passion. With it, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, one of our preeminent radical historians, once again delivers a powerful and provocative indictment of settler colonialism and white nationalism, which were foundational in building this country. It could not be more timely. A must-read history for our troubling present.”
—Barbara Ransby, author of Making All Black Lives Matter

“A compelling counter-narrative to America’s autobiography as the making of a ‘nation of immigrants.’ Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz not only chips away at this settler account but also provides the narrative glue for an emancipatory movement beyond the settler-native dichotomy.”
—Mahmood Mamdani, author of Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities

“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is a one-woman wrecking ball against the tower of lies erected by generations of official and television historians—people who make a living glorifying slave traders and exterminators of Native Americans.”
—Ishmael Reed

“With characteristic grit and brio, Dunbar-Ortiz demonstrates how profoundly the settler-colonial history of the United States and the ideology of ‘white nativism’ have shaped both immigration policy and immigrant identity.”
—Mike Davis, author of Prisoners of the American Dream

“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has produced a remarkable, engrossing, and readable reexamination of US history.”
—Bill Fletcher Jr., trade unionist and author of “They’re Bankrupting Us!” And Twenty Other Myths About Unions

“In this book, a precious gift drawn from an amazingly rich life and a prodigious life of learning, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz urges us to disavow the violence of the US settler nation-state, its discursive erasures of native peoples and its material relations of dispossession.”
—Gary Y. Okihiro, author of Third World Studies: Theorizing Liberation

“This is a must-read to finally discard unquestioning settler American liberalism and patriotism.”
—Harsha Walia, author of Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism

“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz methodically unravels the pernicious myth of ‘a nation of immigrants,’ standing in the way of collective well-being on this continent and beyond.”
—Manu Karuka, author of Empire’s Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad

“Once again, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz demonstrates why she is one of the foremost historical scholars we have today, and Not ‘A Nation of Immigrants’ is her most crucial offering yet, opening new insights on this country’s sordid history of systemic oppression, exclusion, and erasure.”
—Tim Z. Hernandez, author of All They Will Call You

“Simply put, if you read this book and learn its lessons, you will have to change everything you think about the history of the United States and the terms we use to fight for justice.”
—Walter Johnson, author of The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States

“From being deeply shaken and disturbed, to ultimately feeling exhilarated and optimistic by Dunbar-Ortiz’s conclusion and ‘call to arms,’ this is a paradigm-shifting work.”
—Patrick Higgins, anti-imperialist historian and activist

“You will never look at US history the same way after reading Not ‘A Nation of Immigrants.’”
—Aviva Chomsky, author of Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal

“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s sweeping revisionist history challenges received versions of US origins, arguing convincingly that United States society was the product of settler colonialism and slavery rather than immigration. She demonstrates how the destruction of Indigenous nations was airbrushed out of history, to be replaced by the self-indigenization of both the earliest settlers and waves of later immigrants. Building on her magisterial Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz makes a significant contribution to our understanding not only of the United States but of settler colonialism as a mode of domination and elimination of Indigenous peoples and cultures.”
—Rashid Khalidi, author of The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine


Alexander Hamilton

Settler Colonialism


Continental Imperialism

Irish Settling

Americanizing Columbus

“Yellow Peril”

The Border



Not “a Nation of Immigrants”: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Readers’ Guide Discussion Questions

Download the readers’ guide.

  1. In the first chapter, Dunbar-Ortiz examines the fallacies in the portrayal of Alexander Hamilton, especially in the musical Hamilton, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and how these inaccuracies mask Hamilton’s xenophobic and militaristic ideologies. How might the concept of US exceptionalism play a role in the false depictions of Alexander Hamilton? How does this depiction sustain the mythology that the United States is “a nation of immigrants”?
  2. What was your definition of genocide before reading about the Genocide Convention? Did you correlate genocide with the history of the US beforehand? If not, why do you think that is?
  3. Referencing the English settlers and their invasion of the Powhatan villages, Dunbar-Ortiz states, “The colonizers relied on tobacco as a profit-making commodity, which the Indigenous peoples had invented and used only sparingly for ceremonial and medical purposes.” In what ways has the US continued to colonize the customs of marginalized groups?
  4. One of the many arguments that Dunbar-Ortiz makes throughout the book is that it is imperative to recognize how the criminal justice system, and its structure designed to target marginalized communities, specifically Black people, stems from settler colonialism. How does the mass incarceration of Black people mirror the history of genocide in the US?
  5. What is the relationship between the US and resistance? Do you believe that genocidal accounts in US history would have been completely erased and/or dismissed if marginalized groups didn’t rebel? Does the act of resisting help these accounts come to the surface more? Why or why not?
  6. In reference to the Irish famine, boycotting and rebellion contributed to one of the core values of US settlers. However, the rioting of Black and brown people for racial injustice is treated as inferior to that of white rioters. What do you think has shaped this inequitable perception?
  7. Recounting the 1974 desegregation order in Boston, Dunbar-Ortiz cites a description of white rioters, many of whom were Irish Catholics: “Wild, raging mobs of white men and women confronted armies of police, while youths in their teens and younger hurled rocks, bottles, and racial epithets at buses carrying terrified black youngsters to school.” This quote reveals the countless times Irish Catholics perpetuated the hate they received by white settlers onto Black Americans. Do you believe the US has an ongoing history of this irony? Why or why not?
  8. How might advocating for the visibility of Indigenous peoples and their long-lasting contribution to the US help debunk the many myths that attempt to erase them? What are some ways we can help in denouncing these myths?
  9. In your opinion, what is the “American Dream” built on? Who is it for? Who has access to it?
  10. When discussing the harmful myths about undocumented immigrants and the border, Dunbar-Ortiz discusses the historical context of these misconceptions and how it’s based on white supremacy and paranoia about the overthrow of whiteness. One historical event mentioned is the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, where Mexicans were given the same rights as their white counterparts, yet “many of those who were poor or owned little or no property, or who lived in socially segregated barrios, were sometimes classified by federal or state officials as Indian and denied white rights.” How has capitalism been complicit in upholding white supremacy and genocide?
  11. Another myth that Dunbar-Ortiz dismantles is the country’s history of demanding immigrants to speak the English language and prioritize US culture over their own. How does this add to the erasure of BIPOC communities? Do you think that such a demand stems from white nationalists’ goal to prioritize whiteness? Why or why not?
  12. In her conclusion, Dunbar-Ortiz references a few scholars and acclaimed writers to reposition her argument that the United States is not a nation of immigrants and issues her call to action that US history be rewritten and not whitewashed. One of the scholars she quotes is Lisa Lowe, who states: “The affirmation or the desire for freedom is so inhabited by the forgetting of its condition of possibility that every narrative articulation of freedom is haunted by its burial, by the violence of forgetting.” How have you been taught the violence of forgetting? What are some ways you can break this cycle of forgetting (or not being aware of) the systemic genocide in the United States? Can you think of other myths that you can dismantle?

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Not "A Nation of Immigrants"

ISBN: 978-080703629-7
Publication Date: 8/24/2021
Size:5.5 x 8.5 Inches (US)
Price:  $27.95
Format: Cloth
Availability: In stock.
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