Postcolonialism is the last stage in the process of colonialism. However, it is also the longest one. Although postcolonialism seems to be a liberating phase for previously colonized societies, it is actually nothing but a transition into another era of colonialism known as neocolonialism. Postcolonialism, with the cultural gap that it creates, paves the way for the the creation of an identity crisis that unconsciously drags societies back into the misery of colonialism.
In order for us to understand the effects of the postcolonial transition on previously colonized societies, it is crucial that we examine the colonial multiculturalism and how it relates to the identity of the colonized. In their way to oppress the colonized, colonizers have always worked on the element of dehumanization by weakening, even diminishing the identity of the people that they were ruling. Using the multiculturalism created by the several identities present in the colonial society, the colonizers were able to polarize and divide people into different categories. The colonized were always seen and approached as inferior and weak when the colonizers were perceived as superior and powerful. In this prospect, the colonized were obliged to let go of their identity, which became too shameful and troubling to keep, unable to replace it with that of the colonizers, which was too far to reach. Therefore, for years, the colonized lived along the lines of two identities of which they possessed none.
With postcolonialism, the line on which colonial societies used to sit turned into a gap and they found themselves lost between an identity that they left and one that left them. What followed were an involuntary detachment from their authentic pre-colonial identity and an attachment to an incompatible colonial one. This transition had major consequences that are depicted in the Senegalese novel The Abandoned Baobab. The contentious, paradoxical, and somewhat confusing aspects of a young girl’s story, living between Senegal and Belgium just a few years after her country’s independence, are the perfect depiction of the dynamics of a postcolonial society. Working hard to make sense of her Senegalese self in Belgium, Ken tries to associate with different groups who pertain to a culture that is very similar to the one of her colonizers. However, she finds herself everytime colonized again by the cultural and physical standards that she has to meet, but cannot due to what remains of her lost, pre-colonial identity: her different skin color. This sense of displacement and estrangement in the land of the colonizers that Ken expresses in her novel represents the continuity of the psychologically unstable effects of colonialism. In her words, Ken lays an important question that many people in postcolonial societies ask: “But who exactly was the self and how could I tame this self in order to be at peace?”
This postcolonial phase, although many think has temporary effects, contains deep cultural implications that remain with people for a long time. This distortion of identity, being passed down from a generation to the other overtime through culture, has an effect on the personalities of the colonized. While analyzing the diversity of opinions and thoughts found in postcolonial Chinese society in 2004, Howard Choy, a professor at Wittenberg University, makes the case that this heterogeneity is mainly caused by a postcolonial identity crisis. Using Michel Foucault’s philosophical concept of heterotopia, which reveals the otherness within postcolonial China, Choy confirms that postcolonialism’s long term effects can lead to the manifestation of cultural schizophrenia.
Modern-day Tunisia can serve as a very relevant example of such a unique and intricate phenomenon. Although Tunisia has declared independence from the French more than sixty years ago, the Tunisian identity still suffers from a postcolonial voidness that has made it impossible for people to make a true sense of who they are. The language, culture, religious beliefs, and opinions of people are expressed through two independent and often opposing perspectives that are derived both from the French colonial culture and the original Tunisian one. This has transported the realities of people to a paradoxical paradigm where conflicting ideas and practices coexist within the same culture. Therefore, a schizophrenic identity emerged, dominating the behaviors of Tunisians who, to this day, still unconsciously choose to express love and affection using French words, but hatred and aggression using Arabic ones. A mere observation of the dynamics of the Tunisian society can lead us to easily spot more symptoms of this schizophrenia, which despite its paradoxical manifestations, might have taken the country’s culture down a path that is rather more liberal and inclusive than extremist.
In conclusion, postcolonialism is a critical transition that previously colonized societies have to undergo. During such an important phase, there needs to be focus on filling the identity gap that decolonization creates. Without that, societies are most likely to progressively develop a torn and schizophrenic identity that unconsciously hinders their stability and their ability to recognize themselves as independent individuals with a history and culture of their own.
I am Walid Hedidar, a Tunisian student currently studying anthropology and international studies at the University of Denver in the U.S.