How and why saying "We are ALL Immigrants" is problematic

…and deeply hurtful, and is contributing to systems of deeply rooted racism, and even contributing to the history of genocide and slavery that exists in the United States.

All over the United States people are admirably rallying in support of fair, generous, compassionate and non-racist policies and practices for welcoming and protecting immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented individuals, and black and brown residents and citizens and travelers who are being harassed. These values of love are deep and strong. An expression intended to extend empathy and build solidarity has arisen from these positive and commendable values. “We are ALL immigrants”. I have heard it in speeches and rallies and seen it on signs and written in sidewalk chalk.

The problem is, we are not all immigrants. We are Indigenous people, We are descendants of slaves. We are descendants of invaders. We are descendants of colonizers. We are descendants of settlers. And finally, we are descendants of immigrants or are immigrants. Saying this popular phrase tries to perpetuate an untruth about our country. It tries to put a pretty wrapping on “what our country is all about” and tries to only focus on the positive values that yes, are also a part of our history. It is a lie that this is what our country is ALL about, however. This country was founded by an elite privileged class, with genocide, slavery, and indentured servitude. Yes, there were also those seeking and creating the positive values of freedom, equality, and democracy. But if you try to ignore the poisonous underpinnings you will only perpetuate it’s existence.

Saying “we are all immigrants” erases the truth, or attempts to erase the truth. It attempts to erase the existence of entire Nations of peoples upon whose land we live. Nations, many of which have people who are relatives to the people from the South; many refugees are Indigenous to many different areas of the Americas.

Saying “we are all immigrants” erases the need, or attempts to erase the need, for reparations. It attempts to erase the history of the hundreds of years of slavery. It attempts to erase the fact that many of the people’s existence today is based on having ancestors surviving slavery, of having ancestors who were brought here against their will. It attempts to erase the fact that many of the people’s existence today here in this country is because of ancestors who depended on using dominance and force and privilege. Rather than on relying on the kindness of those helping them with their arrival here, which is the part we want to espouse. Invading and colonizing are different than immigrating. Immigrating is when you become a member of the existing country, not when you destroy it and take over. Saying this phrase ignores the privilege many of us hold onto even now, and the dominance and continued desire for exploitation of the environment and the use of racism that this country was founded upon.

If we do not speak the truth, we cannot heal it. It will be a festering wound under some pretty bandaging. Pretty bandaging that says things like “we are all immigrants” and “we are all one”.

Empathy and solidarity are worthy goals, but if you try to build them on false statements then you will just be perpetuating the very systems that need to be dismantled in order to repair the conditions that create the injustices that you are so empathetic about.

I am suggesting that we recognize the true history, and make reparations, and dismantle the systems causing the conditions, and change to become the country we choose to be. We need to examine how we are complicit and how we perpetuate things that don’t fit our values. It means some of us need to give away some of our privilege. And continue to get out there and speak up and chant and shout, and be okay with making mistakes and always learning! It means we need to look at the truth. It means we need to find out what it is to be truly in solidarity.