Postcolonialism deals on some level with all the issues that people have faced since the breakup of the large colonial empires. For England-oriented writers, this era is often marked as beginning with the independence of the South Asian nations after World War II, especially the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan. For the Americas, however, postcolonial theory has been applied much earlier, as independence from Spain began to be achieved in the early nineteenth century.
Three key areas that this body of theory addresses, often through analysis of literary works, are race, hybridity, and self-determination.
Because European colonial expansion and control went hand in hand with the development of theories of race and racial hierarchy, the imposition of white superiority as a concept was accompanied by white supremacy in action. When nonwhite persons were judged mentally inferior, they were considered incompetent to administer themselves and constituted the majority of the subaltern. The end of colonial rule either returned control to the former rulers or established a new hierarchy in which descendants of the former colonizers assumed control. Race as an internally experienced and outwardly expressed identity category played large roles in determining people's social position and cultural affiliation. Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks eloquently expresses this situation.
Hybridity also characterized colonialism, both physically through race and in every area of culture. A rigidly defined caste system located every person. Due to early encounters between white male colonizers and indigenous female residents, often through rape, "mixed-race" peoples, often called mestizos, soon came to constitute a large segment of the colony's population. In the Americas, where enslaved Africans were taken to do much of the labor, the term mulatto was often applied to people of mixed white and black ancestry. Cultural hybridity can be applied to products drawing on two different traditions, especially to works by formerly colonized people writing in the colonizer's language. As this applies to women, who many argue were doubly subjugated, Gayatri Spivak's work can be useful.
Self-determination refers both to post-independence autonomous political control and to the identity issues that sustain formerly colonized people in identifying and following governmental systems that authentically represent the people's interests rather than copy the colonizers' failed models. Works by African independence-era leaders, such as Jomo Kenyatta's Facing Mount Kenya, address these dilemmas.