Monday, March 21, 2011

Aspects of Colonialism

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.  


  1. You do a good job here of painting the picture of just how diverse colonialism and all it's proponents and victims are. But it makes me start thinking about why colonialism exists. Why and how is it that such a concept has been conceived and acted upon by so many different peoples throughout history? Can one say that there is the possibility that colonialism is an innate trait of humankind? Being a human myself, I want to jump to the end where a yes/no decision is made and just go ahead and say no because colonialism seems such a horrible thing. But even I myself have taken on the role of colonizer before. For example, when I was little and I saw my brother playing with some new toy that I didn't have, I would sometimes take the toy away from him and then tell him to stop crying, be quiet and don't tell mom. My previous state had been mediocre (lacking the wonderful new toy) so I subdued a person (preventing him from protesting the situation) and took what resources he had (the toy) for myself, leaving him with nothing. It's a small example, but why is it that humans are prone to do such things? This is mostly a rhetorical thought I suppose, because who really know that answer. Nonetheless, what are your thoughts on it?

  2. I'll say when I fist read the first paragraph i thought you were being a little dramatic. But then I realized it was just me hoping that there really was a "civilizing mission" or a "white man's burden." But in the end at least in every example I am familiar with it becomes a horrible affair of forceful usurpation and suppression.

    Loved the Fight Club discussion the other day, so here's to holding out hope for A civilizing mission and that Mamed is Tyler Durden!