Postcolonialism describes the state of affairs in the aftermath of imperialism, which continues to shape our globalized world. It heavily influences politics, economy and culture, thereby creating patterns in society that are deeply embedded in language, policies, codes and opinions. The syllable 'post' does not mean to imply that colonialism is a thing of the past. Rather, it highlights the significance of colonial histories in shaping our perceptions and how Western forms of knowledge and power are normalized in our way of thought.
Postcolonial theorists concern themselves with the grave global disparities in wealth and power; basing their analysis on the postcolonial state of affairs. They frequently point to the direct link between Western perceptions of the non-West and the colonial past. Discourses (things that are spoken and written in any given context) portrayed and continue to portray non-Westerners - or, what we call them today; the developing world - as inferior 'other'. In this way European colonizers were able to justify their domination over others thinking of themselves as bringing progress and civilization. Today, such discourses continue to make our present global power structures seem 'normal' and inevitable (Baylis, Smith & Owens, 2015; Shaila, 2017).
Consider the following example of global inequality:
"[...] in order to better understand how global class relations emerge and are maintained we must address ideas about why these relations appear normal. This approach points to how characterizations of global poverty are often accompanied by images and narratives of non-Western governments and societies as simultaneously primitive, hyper-masculine, aggressive, childlike and effeminate. In short, Postcolonialism argues that addressing and finding solutions to poverty and global inequality come up against representations of the other that make it difficult for Western policymakers to shed their biases and address the underlying global structural factors such as how capital and resources are accumulated and flow around the world generating inequality. For this reason, solutions often focus only on intervening to support a seemingly less developed state, rather than addressing the underlying causes of global inequality."
(excerpt taken from Shaila, N. 'Introducing Potcolonialism in International Relations Theory')
Edward Said and his 1978 Orientalism is frequently thought of a foundational work of Postcolonialism. (Find the Introduction and chapter one for free download here. For a video summary, click here.) Said had been influenced by the works of Frantz Fanon (1967) and Albert Memmi (1991) who concerned themselves with the power of ‘othering’. Fanon for exmple described how race shapes the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. According to him, people in times of colonial rule started to internalize - meaning 'identify with' - ideas of racial difference that positioned white European as superior. As he puts is; the 'black man' is brought to believe in his own inferiority on the basis of imposing the colonizer's language, religion, culture, political systems etc. This internationalization, which is also termed 'colonization of the mind', enabled the colonizers to justify their rule and made it easier to maintain (Shaila, 2017).
Many people console themselves with the belief that the racism of yesterday remains safely in the past. Postcolonialism shows how colonization of the mind along racial binaries is still prevalent today; decades after formal colonial rule has ended. According to Shaila (2017); "'Racialized othering' frames not just history, but contemporary debates such as national security, nuclear politics, nationalism, culture, immigration, international aid and the struggle for indigenous rights." In this way, the racism of the past continues in the present. (Check out Anibal Quijano's 'Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism & Latin America' who describes race as a mental category of modernity)
Baylis, J., Smith, S., & Owens, P. (Eds.). (2017). The globalization of world politics: An introduction to international relations. Oxford University Press.
Fanon, F. (1967). Black skin, white masks. New York : Grove Press. [Excerpt]
Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. [Introduction & Chapter 1]
Shaila, N. (2017). Introducing Postcolonialism in International Relations Theory. E-International Relations Publishing. [Full text]
Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of power and Eurocentrism in Latin America. International Sociology, 15(2), 215-232. [Full text]