America was founded as an inverted empire, with enslaved Africans and decimated Native Americans forming an internal colony. It was reconstructed as a concealed slave economy, with the descendants of slaves and immigrants laboring in prisons. What is exceptional about America is the delusion of American exceptionalism, which has some redeeming value, much like hypocrisy: it offers a tonic against resignation, a standard against which to measure, expose, and hope for a different future.
More from Aziz Rana:
“It is certainly true that, over the course of the twentieth century, oppressed groups within the US have been able to access greater legal protections. But these changes have occurred on ideological terms shaped by the dominant majority. Unlike colonized peoples abroad, blacks, American Indians, Mexicans, and others have never been able to impose within the United States an actual conscious moment of colonial accounting.
“There has been no symbolic raising of a new flag or writing of a new governing text, let alone imposition of the type of sustained policies — such as those of reparations, land return, meaningful sovereignty, and systematic resource redistribution — that defined actual decolonization efforts elsewhere.
“Instead, in the US the project of inclusion — as opposed to decolonization — has concentrated narrowly on distributing more fairly the country’s few positions of corporate, professional, and governmental power. The result, although clearly a move away from classic settler norms, has been mostly to broaden the composition of socially privileged groups at the top rather than to undermine privilege as such or to eliminate its racially inflected character.”