Book Club with Jeffrey Sachs

Episode 8: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Not “a Nation of Immigrants”

October 05, 2021 The SDG Academy Season 1 Episode 8
Episode 8: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Not “a Nation of Immigrants”
Book Club with Jeffrey Sachs
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Book Club with Jeffrey Sachs
Episode 8: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Not “a Nation of Immigrants”
Oct 05, 2021 Season 1 Episode 8
The SDG Academy

John Professor Jeffrey Sachs and highly acclaimed author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, to discuss her latest novel, Not “A Nation of Immigrants.”   

Together they discuss settler colonialism, white supremacy, and the history of erasure and exclusion in the United States while urging the audience to embrace a more complex and honest history, which has typically been left out of traditional American textbooks.

The Book Club with Jeffrey Sachs is brought to you by the SDG Academy, the flagship education initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Learn more and get involved at


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Show Notes Transcript

John Professor Jeffrey Sachs and highly acclaimed author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, to discuss her latest novel, Not “A Nation of Immigrants.”   

Together they discuss settler colonialism, white supremacy, and the history of erasure and exclusion in the United States while urging the audience to embrace a more complex and honest history, which has typically been left out of traditional American textbooks.

The Book Club with Jeffrey Sachs is brought to you by the SDG Academy, the flagship education initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Learn more and get involved at


⭐️ Thank you for listening!

➡️ Sign up for the newsletter:

➡️ Website:

🎉 Don't forget to subscribe and share your favorite episode with your friends!

📣 Leave a rating and tell us what you thought about this episode!

Jeffrey Sachs  00:03

Hello, I'm Jeffrey Sachs. Welcome to Book Club, a monthly conversation with world-leading authors who have written scintillating, inspiring, and remarkably important books about history, social justices, and the challenges of building a decent world. 


Jeffrey Sachs  00:19

In this episode, I will be speaking with the renowned author of "An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States," Professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, to discuss her latest book, "Not 'A Nation of Immigrants.'" Professor Dunbar-Ortiz is a wonderful historian and a leading activist in the international indigenous movement, and has been for more than four decades. She's known worldwide for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues. In her new book, Professor Dunbar-Ortiz discusses settler colonialism, white supremacy, and the history of exclusion and extermination in the United States. She recounts the history left out of American textbooks, and discusses the self-congratulatory myth that the United States is founded by and for immigrants. 


Jeffrey Sachs  01:11

Thank you for being here. You know, I love your writing and love your books, and this one is spectacular. Can you talk about, for everybody just joining in, most who will run out and get your book afterwards, what is the theme and why are we not, in the United States, a nation of immigrants even if we're constantly told that we are? 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  01:35

Well, thank you, Jeff, so much for having me on your wonderful podcast. Yes, the theme is really about what the United States really is: a settler colonial state, founded as such, from the initial settlements in Jamestown and Plymouth. That was the intention. There certainly are immigrants. But settler colonialists come to steal land, take land, move people out, and take that land themselves and settle it. Immigrants come to an already existing polity, an already existing society. They had nothing to do with creating it. So settlers have already set everything up. And of course, it's hundreds of years, it's been set up, so generations of other settlers came after, they kept coming. But they were still building what it was, those 13 colonies. And then they immediately upon independence started moving–the British, were keeping them from moving over the mountain chain, so they were hugging the Atlantic coast–and they immediately started annexing and taking more land and needing more settlers. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  02:50

So up until the 1840s, everyone who came, came for land, except of course, enslaved Africans, who were brought to do the work of that land. In part, the colonialism of that era, for the British, it was agricultural production, particularly cotton, and tobacco. Tobacco was indigenous to North America. It was a sacrament for the native people. Highly addictive, so it spread all over Europe, and was a major commodity. So these plantations that get formed and are worked by slave labor, they deplete the land, so they have to get more land. They move away from Virginia, of course, into the Mississippi Valley. So you know, up until 1860, that was the process of settler colonialism. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  03:47

So the first Immigration Act to exist at all, in the United States. The Irish came, they were problematic to the existing order. They were Catholics, in a Protestant country. But they found a way of Americanizing by affiliating with the Democrats, the party of Andrew Jackson. The very racist party; they worked in slave patrols and they worked in policing. You know, the police were getting started at the time. So there was a certain Americanization. But the first Immigration Act was actually exclusion. Exclusion of Chinese in 1873.


Jeffrey Sachs  04:26

That was the first Immigration Act. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  04:28

Yeah, exclusion. 


Jeffrey Sachs  04:30

So, could I just go back for one moment, just to check the basic facts and to help people conceptualize the dates? The English start coming in the early 17th century, in the early 1600s. The first settlements, as you said, in Virginia, in Jamestown, and in Massachusetts, in Plymouth, and it's in the 17th century that these are settlers because as you say, they're coming for land, they are coming for agriculture, and people should remember that it was only 150 years after that, that's when the colonies broke away from Britain. And they broke away, as you mentioned, in passing, so that they could get more land. That the American Revolution was really because the British authorities in London were telling the British settlers in the colonies, Don't cross the Appalachian Mountains to the west. But they said, why not, we want more land and broke free from the British control. 


Jeffrey Sachs  05:30

And then as you describe in the book, it's the Northwest Territories, so called, the Ohio Valley, to the west of Appalachia, that the settlers that first move. Then you mentioned Andrew Jackson of the 1830s; we'll come back to him in a moment. He is, in my view, one of the racist criminal presidents of the United States, we've had a few, but he is involved in more land expansion and pushing Native Americans to the west. But then you mentioned in the 1840s, what you're calling–and I think it's eye opening, and I hope people are catching this important nuance–Roman Catholic Irish refugees from famine and from British imperialism in Ireland, come to the Americas, but they're really the first immigrants coming to an established political system as workers, and they end up working in the army and in the police to enforce this settler system as you're describing it. Well, two groups–one you mentioned in quick passing, but of course, it's a central theme of America, and that is the slaves brought by millions to the Americas by the British, and the fact that when the settlers came, it wasn't an empty country. You haven't mentioned yet the indigenous population. So I'd like to ask you about that just to get the picture filled out. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  06:59

Yes, it's very important to understand that the mythology of the wandering Indian out in the woods hunting, not cultivating the land, which was a Puritan argument that they were actually sinful because they were not cultivating the land. But in fact, they were cultivating the land, the eastern part of what is now the United States was one of the seven sites of the founding of agrarian civilizations like the Nile and Euphrates, in the Po river and Mesoamerica and the Inca. There are seven that are designated in the eastern North America, up to the sub-Arctic all the way to the Gulf, and from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River. So this had been curated by these agrarian native nations– Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Creek, Muskogee people–and then many others, but those were the very large populations in the southeast.


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  08:00

So what the settlers did, they came to already cultivated land and appropriated it. The forests were curated, they burned the underbrush, so that they made roads through the forest. As John Smith, the mercenary John Smith wrote that he could take a buggy, you know, horses and a buggy, all the way from Virginia to Massachusetts, through the woods on the roads that were built, and how that meant a large army could easily use these roads to conquer the people. So generally, people feel very sorry for Native people, but they think they were kind of half naked, you know, kind of going out and hunting and eating. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  08:46

They all lived in villages. It was a continent of villages, basically. And they were self subsistent, but they also did trade. But they didn't raise commercial crops. Tobacco was a wild, they did nurture it, but it was a sacred, you know, it wasn't for massive use at all, as it became. The cotton was indigenous. They used cotton for clothing and so forth. To understand that it was colonialism appropriates what already exists. They don't come into a wilderness. There was no wilderness in North America. It didn't exist. That's an invention. 


Jeffrey Sachs  09:25

Yes, Roxanne, your book opens with a real mythbuster which, oh, was a little sad for me because it did break some myths that I held. And the first chapter is about Alexander Hamilton, one of the wonderful Broadway plays of recent years. But I'd like you to describe this context. But let me just set the stage, as it were, a little bit, which is that the richest British colonies in the 18th century, I think it's right to say, we're in the Caribbean, the sugar colonies, which were all slave colonies and actually quite ruthless slave colonies and very profitable for the British slave owners and the sugar magnate. And out of that milieu comes Alexander Hamilton, but not in the way that I thought. So could you actually describe this, because it is setting the scene for what we don't understand properly about American history? 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  10:25

Yeah, US historians, you know, make up a lot of things about the so-called "founders" and Chernow, who wrote the Hamilton biography that Lin-Manuel Miranda created the musical from, he just told lies. The idea that Alexander Hamilton was an immigrant–


[Audio clip]  10:50

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore...


[Audio clip]  10:54

What an incredible gift these folks have given to the United States of America. It is rare, where a piece of art can remind us about what's best in ourselves. 


[Audio clip]  11:06

The $10 founding father without a father, got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter. By 14, they placed him in charge of the trading charter. 


[Audio clip]  11:22

And every day while slaves were being slaughtered and carted away across the waves he struggled and kept his guard up. Inside he was longing for something to be a part of, the brother was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter. Then a hurricane came and devastation reigned, our man saw his future drip, dripping down the drain. Put a pencil to his temple connected it to his brain. And he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain. 


[Audio clip]  11:53

Well the word got around, they said, "This kid is insane, man!" Took up a collection just to send him to the main land. Get your education, don't forget from whence you came, and the world's gonna know your name. What's your name, man?


[Audio clip]  12:09

Alexander Hamilton. My name is Alexander Hamilton. There's a million things I haven't done. Just you wait, just you wait.


[Audio clip]  12:24

This is a nation of immigrants extravaganza, you know, I never thought I would see. I was already on to the Nation of Immigrants thing from 2005. I wrote a kind of rant about "Stop calling this nation of immigrants," and you know, giving my thesis. But that play came along, and this is the embodiment of that concept, you know, and making Alexander Hamilton into an immigrant, when he was a British citizen, you know, they were a tiny minority in the Caribbean, whether they were French or British or anything else, because these were total slave colonies, the sugar colonies, this commodity of sugar, everyone in the world got addicted to it, just like tobacco and opium, you know, that these drugs that built the western civilization. 


Jeffrey Sachs  13:17

I always say, if you want to make money go into a business of addiction. You have your ready customers there. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  13:23

Right? Exactly. So he was white. That meant he was privileged, he was a British citizen. And although his parents died, he was taken care of, you know, he was actually a trained apprentice in accounting, and what were the books about, what was being traded? Slaves, that was the only commodity. Slaves and sugar. Everyone was involved in the slave trade. So the idea he was an abolitionist, an immigrant, is just absolutely ridiculous. He was sent by these wealthy men to Columbia University, in the British colony of New York to go to college. He was not an immigrant. They could move around anywhere they wanted, they didn't have to have papers or anything else to move within the British Empire. 


Jeffrey Sachs  14:14

He was a subject of the British Empire, from a slave colony. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  14:18

That was totally privileged, you know, that was a very privileged thing. So he was already well-to-do, he immediately married into the wealthiest family in New York, the Schyulers, who were also the biggest slave owners and slave traders in the north, in New York. 


Jeffrey Sachs  14:37

As you mentioned, that's you know, wonderful scenes on the play, but they don't mention that the Schuylers are a major slaver family. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  14:46

They don't mention slaves at all, and they don't have characters that are slaves. The poet Ishmael Reed here in the Bay Area, made a play of where he's talking to Lin-Manuel about his fantasies. You know, it's a wonderful one-act play that he put on in New York. Toni Morrison was still alive and sponsored it. He exposed a lot.


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  15:08

But I think the other really kind of tragic thing about Lin-Manuel Miranda is he calls himself an immigrant. He comes from Puerto Rico, which is a colony of the United States. So this fuzziness about who's a colonized person, who's a settler, who's an immigrant just gets wiped out. And that's what the American story loves is the new level of homogenization, so we don't have to deal with all of these really complicated contradictions. 


Jeffrey Sachs  15:41

You note that Hamilton was opposed to real immigrants coming to the United States. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  15:47

Oh, he was terrified, especially of the French revolutionaries. France, the monarchy, supported the US revolution, and then the French Revolution started, and by the time they were, you know, writing the Constitution, he was for the most rigid Alien and Sedition Acts, and to particularly to keep any French people out. He was the main spokesman for everyone having to be vetted, each and every person. But I think the other thing about Hamilton that people don't understand, is he was first and foremost a military man. He was second only to George Washington in the command of the Army. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  16:27

He's the one that led 15,000 troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. That was Alexander Hamilton that did that. George Washington was involved, and then he had second thoughts and went away. It was completely Alexander Hamilton's thing of crushing these peasants over this tax, you know, on their whiskey they were making. They protested the tax, and they were being taxed to pay for the military. So he's basically a military man, and he was the most important person in writing the Constitution. Well, the Federalists were, Madison, but it was mainly Alexander Hamilton. He was a brilliant–I would say he was a brilliant evil genius–and now there's a lot of literature that has looked at the Constitution and come up with this term that's really borrowed from the development of Britain. You know, the British state is a fiscal military state, that is a state made for war. And I think that's really important to understand that the United States has never seen a day in its existence from the time of the Revolution without war. 


Jeffrey Sachs  17:39

What's striking to me, Roxanne about that, I've thought about that fact, how militarized our society is, and how British that fact is. Because probably, one could say, there was hardly a day without war for Britain, from maybe around 1400 onwards, and then Britain just rolled across the whole world. There's a famous map, which I like, the 23 countries of the world that Britain never invaded, because British troops, British troops have been in roughly 170 countries of the world during this period. But the US is a British settlement, and it created a fiscal military state because the US then had war as its central theme, to create the territorial United States, to dispossess the Native American villages and nations across the country. But I had not made the connection with Hamilton–I think of Hamilton as yes, creating a central government, creating the basis for industry and infrastructure for manufacturing, but also creating the institutions to enable an ongoing military campaign, as it were, which continues around the world, of course. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  19:08

He also created the first corporation during the fighting, the 10-year war, for manufacturing armaments. The Springfield Armory in Massachusetts. It still exists, that's where all the guns are made. So we're a nation of gun manufacturing, too. It's survived offshore, and it's a major export from especially the war machinery but small arms, as well. The United States exports 60% of the world's small arms around the world and domestically even more. So it's a very martial nation. People don't think of themselves in the United States as a military state. And that's dangerous. 


Jeffrey Sachs  19:54

One of the many remarkable quotations you have in here is a statement by Thomas Jefferson, who ironically was Hamilton's foe. But in 1801, Jefferson says the following, "However our present interests may restrain us within our limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with the people speaking the same language governed in similar form by similar laws."


Jeffrey Sachs  20:26

So 1801 at the very birth of the country, I thought it came later, but Jefferson is already saying, we're going to spread out across the entire North American continent, and the entire South American continent for that matter. Fortunately, there were no people there, right? 


[Audio clip]  20:47

Yeah, and he put it into action. He sent military spies into what was then Spanish-held northern Mexico to explore, you know, and explore how how to make war. And then the Monroe Doctrine in 1821, taking the province of Texas, the slave owners taking Texas and you know, Mexico was independent and abolished slavery, o never accepted Texas, so called Republic, but then the war that took half of Mexico. So I think, their main competitor, and why I think they weren't able to take all of Latin America and the Caribbean, was a British competitor. British capital was also very important and controlling. But that more or less, they handed over, you know, with the Monroe Doctrine, kind of handed over to the United States, okay, that's your sphere of interest now. 


Jeffrey Sachs  21:45

The US conceives itself as a country of law. And somehow under that law comes all of this war, genocide, expropriation, enslavement. And one of the features of the law, which you have written about beautifully and talk about in this book, is this Doctrine of Discovery. And even the Supreme Court validating that. Could you describe that because it's really fascinating what comes under the "rule of law"? 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  22:15

Yeah, most people I think, in the United States have no idea that one of the fundamental laws in the United States is based on a papal bull from 1493, which gave the Americas to Spain, to Castillo and Aragon, after Columbus's voyage. That had been preceded by a papal bull that gave Portugal all of Africa. So that was the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade. So that Doctrine of Discovery then was adopted by other countries, even Protestant England, and all colonial powers started invoking it. 


Jeffrey Sachs  22:53

What did it say, exactly? I mean, from the context of say, of Protestant Britain: what is the Doctrine of Discovery exactly? That you have the right to do what? 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  23:03

Well, you have the right a possession, if you discover it, discover another territory, that is terra nullis. And terra nullis, what that means is that the humans that are there are not considered people who have the knowledge of land, even though they're farmers, throughout the Americas, they're farmers, you know, throughout Africa, they're farmers and herders, fishermen, they're human beings, living quite well, actually, living longer than Europeans because they take baths. And when Europeans didn't. That disappearance of any people who were not Christians, see it's a Christian doctrine. So if they're not Christian, they're not human. And you can take their land, or you take their land and then Christianize them, and then maybe they can be absorbed, but they're not in charge. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  23:04

So the way the US adopted it, Thomas Jefferson actually stated–it wasn't law–but he stated that it's just built into the Constitution of the United States and the reality that the Doctrine of Discovery applies to the United States, that they possess it by the right of discovery. And then it was in the Marshall decisions–


Jeffrey Sachs  24:30

In the Supreme Court, no less. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  24:32

–in the Supreme Court. Yes. So it entered into law in the Supreme Court. It was most recently validated by the Supreme Court in 2007, in a land case of the Oneida part of the Hoda Nashoni. It was a clear cut case of Oneida land that should have been restored to them. And it was the Scalia court, but it was a unanimous decision to deny that based specifically on the Doctrine of Discovery, naming it. And you know who wrote that opinion? Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


Jeffrey Sachs  25:13

No! Why, how, based on Marshall's precedent, in a way?


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  25:18

Yes, and based on the Doctrine of Discovery being a law. 


[Audio clip]  25:24

This case concerns properties in the city of Sherrill, New York, purchased in open market transactions by the Oneida Indian nation of New York, in 1997 and 1998. On the property so purchased, the tribe operates a gasoline station, a convenience store, and a textile factory, contained within the 300,000 acre area that the United States had reserved for the Oneidas at the end of the 18th century. The recently acquired properties were last possessed by the Oneidas as a tribal entity in 1805. Governance of the entire area for two centuries, has been provided by New York and its county and municipal units, and for generations, the parcels of land in question have been subject to state and local taxation. In the 1985 decision, this Court held that the Oneidas stated a tribal claim for damages against the county of Oneida for wrongful possession of lands the Oneidas conveyed to New York in 1795, in violation of federal law. In the instant action, the tribe resists the payment of property taxes to Sherrill. Current acquisition of fee titles to discrete parcels of historic reservation land, the tribe maintains, revives the Oneida's ancient sovereignty piecemeal over each parcel. Consequently, the tribe urges, regulatory authority over the newly purchased properties has reverted to the tribe and no longer resides in the city of Sherrill. The tribe prevailed in the courts below. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the parcels of land acquired by the tribe in the 1990s qualify as Indian country, immune from state and local taxation. We reverse that judgment. Our 1985 decision recognized that the Oneidas could maintain a federal common law claim for damages for ancient wrongdoing in which both national and state government were complicit. Today, we decline to project redress for the tribe into the present and future, thereby disrupting the governance of Central New York's counties and towns. The Oneidas long ago relinquished the reins of government and cannot regain them through open market purchases from current title holders. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  28:02

And what she was saying and you know, it's really kind of scary, is that all of Native claimed land in North America then, could be taken away. It's a horrible precedent, if anyone wanted to use it. 


Jeffrey Sachs  28:18

It's extraordinary Roxanne. One of the very deep reflections, we have come to know much better, that an original sin of the United States, a profound and deep one, is enslavement. And for that reason, the Dred Scott case in 1857, which said that a slave could not be a citizen of the United States, but was just chattel, and that this was obvious, is so incredibly shocking. And of course, it was one of the steps on the way to the Civil War itself. But your book is all on the theme that there are really two interrelated, original sins. Even the other might be more fundamental. And that is the colonial settler taking what doesn't belong to you by dispossessing or committing genocide against native populations, native peoples who were here before. And there's a great line, I think, it's quoting my colleague Mahmood Mamdani, saying that American history is, to some extent being de-racialized, but not yet decolonized. So that there's one part is being faced, although with all of the incredible turmoil around that, but the colonial part is not being understood. And I just reflect that while we know the Dred Scott decision, I kind of knew about the Doctrine of Discovery, but still I was shocked to read the Marshall opinion. And I didn't know what you just said about the Ruth Bader Ginsburg for a unanimous court renewing it. So this part of history, and this is, of course, the theme of your book, which is that maybe we're coming to grips with some dimensions of what really happened, but we're not coming to grips with this other absolutely fundamental reality, which is that this was a place conquered nonstop relentlessly from other people. And that is a very, very different vision of what our history is.


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  30:31

Yeah, it's also that the two are really inseparable. They're wrapped together; the enslavement of Africans in slave labor, and the land being taken. Historically, you can't really separate those. That's why almost every history book text that's written is very partial history, and therefore distorted. The wonderful historian Eric Foner, who's done so much good work on abolitionism and slavery, I mean, just monumental work, which I treasure, has never been able to put them together. 


Jeffrey Sachs  31:07

I'll ask him about that, because Roxanne, I'm going to be speaking with him about his new book, "The Second Founding," soon, so I will put the issue to him. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  31:16

Ask him, yeah, and ask him what was going on in the Civil War in Minnesota and the Southwest, with a war against the Dakotas and the hanging, mass hanging and the Sand Creek massacre, and the Long Walk of Incarceration of the Navajos? What does that have to do with it? You know, how did Lincoln take time for all of those... still fighting Indians? So that's not included, you know, in texts on the Civil War. I think it's because the basic framework of doing US history is almost like it's written in stone. And you know, a few rocks fall off the stone, and you kind of rearrange them. And as Civil Rights comes up, you got to lift up and look underneath. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  32:04

But it doesn't include genocide. It doesn't include, you know, ethnic cleansing, genocide, how the land was taken, how it got transferred from 500 nations in the continent, to white people, basically, Europeans, own most of the land still today, is in the hands of descendants of the original settlers, and a whole government built around that. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  32:36

But you know, back to a Nation of Immigrants. I think one of the reasons I wanted to write this book and break that down and demystify it is because it's one of the main modern post-World War II curtains that have been created to camouflage the history of settler colonialism and genocide. And you know, it was created by John F. Kennedy. It's not old. John F. Kennedy created that term, "a nation of immigrants." He published a book in 1958 when he was Senator, and I'm pretty sure it was a kind of propaganda book for him running as a Catholic and a son of immigrants, because up to that time, every single president had been either an original settler or a descendant of original settlers. 


Jeffrey Sachs  33:29

So almost all or basically all British Protestant descent. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  33:33

Yeah, Scots-Anglo, Scots-Irish or the colonizers of Ulster or Anglo, or Anglo-Scots or Anglo-Brits, up until Kohn F. Kennedy ran. So I think he was trying to show that immigrants were good, and it's mostly about the Irish famine, refugees, and immigrants. It never mentions the border or Mexico that you would think a book on...At that time, Operation Wetback was going on, which he had to vote for in Congress, you know, the the forces–


Jeffrey Sachs  34:07

forcibly of removing Mexican back to Mexico.


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  34:09

–Mexican workers. So I think that it was created and it was picked up. Then it made its way into textbooks and all, and now it's literally the world's slogan for the United States is that's a nation of immigrants. And it's a big lie that, you know, does make people want to come to the United States. Oh, there's a place where I can be totally accepted. But I think most people have come as immigrants for jobs because it's an economic powerhouse. I'm sure that that was true of your ancestors who came, the Eastern Europeans. 


Jeffrey Sachs  34:10

Yeah, they were they were running away, running away from the Tsar. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  34:46

Yeah, from pogroms. A lot of the Germans who came were socialists who were running away from persecution as socialists, and that's why we had a moment of socialist organizing in the late 19th century, even where I came from an Oklahoma, was mainly German socialist immigrants who were organizing. I mean, my grandfather was involved. He was just an old Scots-Irish settler guy, but they were mostly German socialist Catholic. So immigrants have come for various political reasons, but also fleeing just poverty, like the Sicilians who came, the southern European tenant farmers, starving, needing remittances to send back to their families, you know, basically to work. But the whole idea that it's a beacon, you know, the Statue of Liberty and all that, it's been very cruel, very cruel. You know, I mentioned the exclusion of Chinese. The second immigration law was to extend that to all Asians, all Asians. 


Jeffrey Sachs  35:52

In 1917, is that right? Or some something around that, yeah 1917.


[Audio clip]  35:57

And then 1923, only Western Europeans, and strict quotas on everyone else. And one of the outcomes of that–tragic outcomes–and I think United States is responsible for a lot of deaths of Jewish refugees trying to escape. The United States had a strict quota on Eastern Europeans and they took fewer Jewish refugees than Cuba and Mexico, poor countries, and they also picked and chose you know–intellectuals and nuclear scientists–who they would bring, not the poor suffering masses. So that has consequences, has tragic consequences, this exclusion.


Jeffrey Sachs  36:44

Roxanne, you've been campaigning for the truth and for advocacy of expanding the understanding and the narrative of America for a long time. And now we're in the midst of the "history wars," which are extraordinary, but showing how touching on these issues is so fraught with political division. Even Mitch McConnell, one of my least favorite politicians in the world, writing to the Secretary of Education: Don't teach this stuff; it divides us. As if the truth should be suppressed so that the white settler slave-owning narrative would be the only truth that was told in America. Are we making progress? You've been watching this for a long time and leading. Is there a change as America itself changes demographically, as we have voices coming from indigenous historians, of course, African American historians telling the history from the perspective of those who suffered this fate?


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  37:49

I think that the horse is out of the gate for truth; that it can't be stuffed back in, it's out there. And I credit the Civil Rights movement. And of course, it started long time ago, early in the 20th century, but really picked up after World War II and then that spawned a Red Power movement, the Chicano, Mexican, Puerto Rican, women's liberation, LGBTQ and trans, that liberation is very, very hard to take, it would take very strong repression that the United States is not prepared for. They've mainly use drugs, sex, and rock and roll and diversions, films and all, to keep us all pacified.


Jeffrey Sachs  38:39

And as you mentioned, mass incarceration.


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  38:42

And if you rebel, mass incarceration, and actual sometimes killing people. So that has worked pretty well for a long time, but I think they really don't know who they're dealing with. Even in very remote places, people like me, you probably also hear from people in small towns and rural areas and parts of the country. Everywhere you go, there is at least five or six people, if not a dozen or two dozen, who are dissidents to this right wing stuff that's all around them. And they're fighting it in various ways. So I think the pandemic–I've gotten a little pessimistic because I recharge going out and talking in places like this and realizing they're there–but it's hard when you're just watching the screen and reading the news feeds to see what's really out there, what's going on. Because I think truth and beauty and looking to the future as being better is something addictive in a good way that is hard to suppress, especially in young people, because they want to see a future. They don't want to see armed goons spouting racist things on Capitol steps everywhere, or in the nation's capitol.


[Audio clip]  40:11

Multiple capitol injuries. Multiple capitol injuries. 1318, 1215 we're coming around from the south side. [Inaudible} You got a group of about 50 charging up the hill on the west front, just north of the stairs. They're approaching the wall now. [Inaudible] They're throwing metal poles at us. [Inaudible] We're here. We're here to fireworks. Fireworks, we're gonna get out of fear, we're gonna give riot warnings, we're gonna try to get compliance, but this is now effectively a riot. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  41:01

That's not the future they want to see. And so I'd say, bring it on, you know, this attack on history, because this is our opening to tell a real story, you know. Critical race theory was a very obscure thing, and now everyone's buying all these books, to learn about it! 


Jeffrey Sachs  41:24

Well, you have launched a critical imperial theory or critical colonial theory with this book. And Roxanne, I was really floored by the last sentence of the book. It's not a spoiler alert, because I want everyone to read all the richness that comes up to this. But for me, I watch foreign policy a lot, I watch the United States from outside the United States a lot. It's stunning to me how militarized American foreign policy is on almost anything. The first resort is a military resort; if you can't do a military resort, crush them with sanctions, but crush them, be sure to crush them. So this is how our foreign policy works. And I just want to read the last sentence of the book, which is fantastic, it says: "The United States will not decolonize until it is forced to do so. And unless colonization and imperialism are understood to be inherent in the very founding and all US institutions, we cannot begin to dismantle the fiscal military state." And this really makes clear we're not arguing about the truth of history. We're arguing about the nature of America here. And you're talking about how to make a country that is not obsessed with conquest. Because after a long time, after, as you say, a country that has been in a conflict, every day, since its founding, this is certainly the tonic that we need. 


Jeffrey Sachs  42:59

Roxanne that is a wonderful place for us to end a fantastic discussion. But let me say thank you for helping shine the light on historical truth to help us to understand our predicament today, and especially a kind of national addiction to militarism. 


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz  43:18

Thank you, Jeff. 


Jeffrey Sachs  43:20

Next time I'll be speaking with Professor Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize winner and the De Witt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University to discuss his latest book, "The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution." In his authoritative history of the United States post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, Professor Foner traces the arc of three constitutional amendments from their origins in antebellum activism and their adoption amidst the intense post-Civil War politics to their virtual nullification by narrow Supreme Court decisions and Jim Crow state laws at the end of the 19th century, and he recounts their revival in new forms of jurisprudence in the 20th century until today. Together, Professor Foner and I will discuss this transformative part of American law and American history, and how the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments remain powerful tools for achieving the American ideal of equality–if we take them up. 


Jeffrey Sachs  44:24

Thank you for joining in the conversation. Please subscribe, rate, and write a review on whatever platform you listen for your podcast. I would love to hear your thoughts as we continue to develop the series.