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. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz claims that John F. Kennedy, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and countless others referenced in this book have contributed to the mass “whitewashing” of US history. Reflect on other instances of historical whitewashing. Where do you see the lasting effects of this process? How, if at all, can the harm of this process be redressed?
  2. In the chapter “Settler Colonialism,” Dunbar-Ortiz points to the misuses of the term “genocide”—just one of many examples that point to the power of language in historical documentation. What other terms, both included in and left out of this text, can you think of that are misused or wrongfully appropriated in a settler-colonial context? How does language play a central role in the perpetuation of harm? Where have you seen harmful language revised, and where have you seen it upheld?
  3. What parallels do you see in the histories of the various immigrant populations Dunbar-Ortiz writes about? What struggles, victories, desires, and processes seem to overlap, and where do they differ? How have these parallels or disparities impacted interracial solidarity in the United States, and what does this look like in the current day?
  4. Dunbar-Ortiz writes critically about the false symbolism of the Statue of Liberty. What other memorials, museums, or cultural practices can you identify that promote similarly harmful mythologies about the United States? How do you envision “justice” when it comes to a modern-day treatment of these sites of cultural mythology?
  5. Reflect on the origins of the term “white” as a “definitive way to signify a settler superordination squarely opposed to ‘Negroes’ and ‘Indians’” (54). In what ways does this term uphold the same meaning, and how has “white” taken on new meaning since the development of the “Black” codes? How has “white” evolved, and what does it mean to various immigrant populations?
  6. Dunbar-Ortiz notes that the process of “self-indigenizing” “appears as a requirement for citizenship acceptance” in the United States (177). How does this process tangibly impact those who are indigenous to the United States? How does it skew popular conceptions of Indigenous history? What does this claim reflect about the importance of the narratives we construct around immigration?
  7. “Trouillot is concerned that for white liberals, feeling guilt about the past can be comfortable ‘inasmuch as it protects them from a racist present” (81). How can historical narratives of oppression be reframed in order to prevent the perpetuation of this “protection” from a racist present?
  8. Dunbar-Ortiz writes about the fact that “Western historical narratives about colonialism and slavery are filled with silences” (81). Given the existing archival silences and given that immigration stories, by nature of the processes of immigration, are, too, often left from the record, reflect on the processes by which history is made, recorded, and remembered. How can we combat these silences?
  9. Consider the stories of Irish and Jewish immigrant populations, for example, who have now been afforded the privilege of “white”ness in the United States. How do you hold the real challenges of these immigrant histories in conversation with the ways in which the process of Americanization “sucks [immigrants] into complicity with white supremacy and erasure of the Indigenous peoples” (281)?
  10. Dunbar-Ortiz makes the claim that dismantling the “nation of immigrants” myth central to this text “will require that all oppressed people and educators take history into their own hands” (283). What makes this myth particularly powerful, and why can’t its dismantling be left to professional US historians? What are other widely adopted myths that contribute to violent erasures? What other agents of harm do you believe require a grassroots, rather than top-down, redress? What efforts have you seen in reimagining society’s vision of justice and how can you, on the individual level, work toward this vision?

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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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