Along with being racist and dangerous, President Trump’s attacks on Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib have led to a fresh round of well-meaning people defining the United States as a “nation of immigrants” and proclaiming that “we are all immigrants.”
This is clearly false.
Native people did not immigrate to what is now known as the United States. They were colonized, systematically dehumanized, mass murdered, displaced, raped and erased by European people who did, in fact, immigrate here. Despite one of the most widespread genocides in human history, the descendants of these Indigenous people remain on this land. The “nation of immigrants” frame disappears these people and their ancestors.
Similarly, enslaved Africans did not immigrate to this land. While some people enjoy splitting hairs about the official definition of “immigrant,” it’s clear that the most common usage excludes enslaved Africans. Black people did not simply arrive in what is now the United States. They were kidnapped and trafficked. Despite 400 years of enslavement and roughly 100 years of Jim Crow, the descendants of these Black people remain in what is now the United States.
So what do Americans of all races, political stripes and national origin get out of repeating a such a silly frame?
In a 2006 piece for Counterpunch, scholar, writer and revolutionary Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz breaks down the political uses of this myth. The title of the piece is “Stop Saying This is a Nation of Immigrants!” so it’s safe to say that people who use the Internet have had plenty of time to figure out something else to say. An excerpt:
Misrepresenting the process of European colonization of North America, making everyone an immigrant, serves to preserve the “official story” of a mostly benign and benevolent USA, and to mask the fact that the pre-US independence settlers, were, well, settlers, colonial setters, just as they were in Africa and India, or the Spanish in Central and South America. The United States was founded as a settler state, and an imperialistic one from its inception (“manifest destiny,” of course). The settlers were English, Welsh, Scots, Scots-Irish, and German, not including the huge number of Africans who were not settlers. Another group of Europeans who arrived in the colonies also were not settlers or immigrants: the poor, indentured, convicted, criminalized, kidnapped from the working class (vagabonds and unemployed artificers), as Peter Linebaugh puts it, many of who opted to join indigenous communities.
Read the rest of the powerful essay at Counterpunch.