The implications of the term imperialism are much more dramatic and global than those of the term colonialism, as far as popular usage is concerned. Therefore the polemical use of the term imperialism to indicate how powerful nations function is not entirely without basis as it is rooted in an understanding of power relations where weak nations are pitted against stronger ones. While the discourse of colonialism is more situated in terms of a specific time and place, generalizations abound, for instance when we speak of a term such as colonial mentality. The difficulty in definition applies both to the terms imperialism and colonialism as well as to movements and ideologies that oppose imperialism.

The distinction between anticolonialism and postcolonialism is more subtle: while the former term represents a thesis proposed by the colonized against the colonizer, the latter term indicates an insight into the nature of anticolonialism both as a discourse and as a movement. To be anticolonial is in principle being postcolonial because one acts in anticipation of defeating the colonial agenda and imagining a situation in which colonialism becomes a relic of the past. The true meaning of postcolonialism is a complete rejection of all forms of colonial or neocolonial oppression, which prevent individuals or groups from arriving at a sense of autonomy. Therefore the term postcolonial can be used as if it meant anticolonial.

From theories of the postcolonial imagination to postcolonial feminism, the word postcolonial is attached to various schools of thought. In terms of historical time and geographical space it implies that postcolonial nations have a colonial and a precolonial past, and it refers to the geographical regions often referred to as the Third World: Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which are dominated by poverty, overpopulation, and divisions of class, gender, and ethnicity. Postcolonialism is not just a discourse restricted to the past but a set of ideas that connects a colonial past to a future in which decolonization becomes a reality, allowing subjugated nations and marginal groups an opportunity to express themselves.

Chinweizu Ibekwe, the Nigerian critic and poet, titled his 1975 book West and the Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slavers and the African Elite. The phrase “West and the rest of us” has subsequently entered the postcolonial vocabulary. Its meaning indicates that Western notions of development, or Western lifestyles oriented toward consuming resources without respect toward the environment, are not a solution to the “us” of the Third World. Contrary to westernization, the non-Western world requires that the poor and marginalized acquire power to create a society where individuals can preserve their sense of dignity without having to give up their autonomy.

Prakash Kona

See also: “The Elite” ; “The People”


Dubois, Laurent, and Deborah Jenson. “Haiti Can Be Rich Again.” New York Times, January 8, 2012.

Harvey, David. The New Imperialism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Jacobs, Jane M. Edge of Empire: Postcolonialism and the City. London: Routledge, 1996.

Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003.