When people of one nation decide that they need to invade another nation, this is colonialism. When you are sitting on the beach you grew up on, and you see foreign ships coming your way, and foreign-looking men get off these ships and begin killing your people and stealing your things – this is colonialism. When a stranger yells at you with words you cannot understand and then slaughters your family in front of you, this is colonialism. When you are stripped naked and one of these foreign men rapes you, this is colonialism.
It takes many forms, spreads across many lands, and touches people of all races and religions. It spans across centuries, millennia. It involves explorers, soldiers, diplomats, criminals, kings, presidents, clergymen, politicians, day laborers, missionaries, businessmen, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters. Its battles are fought over land, resources, religion, money, and power. It makes some people very rich, and leaves others with nothing.
There are few spots on this Earth that haven’t been touched by this scourge of human action, and though every case is different, there are certain universal ways in which people react in a colonial situation. Although the colonizer has taken many forms, colors, tongues, and apparel, he has qualities that tie him to every other colonizer in history. Similarly, the colonized represent a rainbow of cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds, yet they go through some of the same steps in their reaction.
Albert Memi, a Tunisian, wrote about his observations regarding these matters in his The Colonizer and the Colonized (or Portrait du colonisé, précédé par portrait du colonisateur). He described the colonizer as someone who was mediocre in his home and perhaps went to a new land seeking a sense of importance. He painted the colonized as a person who goes through stages, first seeking assimilation, that is to say striving to be like the colonizer. But this will inevitably fail, says Memi, and when it does the colonized decides that he does not need to be like the colonized, but rather he is intensely self-affirming and latches on to his cultural customs. At this point he turns to revolt. He tries, in whatever ways he can, to throw off the fetters of colonialism.