Just Like Us

Just Like Us

The American Struggle to Understand Foreigners

Thomas Borstelmann


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Americans have long considered themselves a people set apart, but American exceptionalism is built on a set of tacit beliefs about other cultures. From the founding exclusion of indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans to the uneasy welcome of waves of immigrants, from republican disavowals of colonialism to Cold War proclamations of freedom, Americans’ ideas of their differences from others have shaped the modern world—and how Americans have viewed foreigners is deeply revealing of their assumptions about themselves.

Just Like Us is a pathbreaking exploration of what foreignness has meant across American history. Thomas Borstelmann traces American ambivalence about non-Americans, identifying a paradoxical perception of foreigners as suspiciously different yet fundamentally sharing American values beneath the layers of culture. Considering race and religion, notions of the American way of life, attitudes toward immigrants, competition with communism, Americans abroad, and the subversive power of American culture, he offers a surprisingly optimistic account of the acceptance of difference. Borstelmann contends that increasing contact with peoples around the globe during the Cold War encouraged mainstream society to grow steadily more inclusive. In a time of resurgent nativism and xenophobia, Just Like Us provides a reflective, urgent examination of how Americans have conceived of foreignness and their own exceptionalism throughout the nation’s history.