Stuart Hall claimed that “people have to have a language to speak about where they are and what other possible futures are available to them”. Progressive political thinkers, artists and organisers have consistently worked to widen the spaces in which the language of possibility, of the imagination, can be exchanged to give expression to liberatory realities. Angela Davis’ scholarship on abolition, Frantz Fanon’s call to “try and set afoot a new (hu)man”, or Claudia Jones’ vision of an internationalist future all chart imaginative paths towards alternative realities by critically diagnosing the conditions of their present.
In the spirit of these thinkers, the ‘Imagined Futures’ series seeks to forge a space wherein the language of possibility can be nurtured. We asked a number of artists, writers and thinkers to draw links between resistance and the imagination; between life as it is lived and the world of ideas; between past struggles, instances of resistance and emancipatory futures. The result is a collection of thoughtful articles that speak to the conditions of the contemporary moment in order to assert that other worlds are possible.
We will be publishing articles from the Imagined Futures series on a fortnightly basis. Sign up to our newsletter to be notified about the latest release!
In many ways, the pandemic has deeply unsettled the routines and rhythms of social life. That which seemed immovable or unquestionable suddenly appears much less perennial. The disruptions of the pandemic have been particularly apparent in education. In the UK, schools were closed or moved online and, almost unthinkably, examinations were cancelled or replaced by algorithms and then teacher predicted grades. As the UK begins to emerge from the pandemic, in education, as elsewhere, the conditions in which we find ourselves are ripe for exploring how things might be different; how things might be better.
Whilst some things may look less immutable, if we look beneath the surface, some things remain depressingly intransigent – this is evident in the global distribution of vaccines, as well as racial patterns in exposure to the virus and in responses to the pandemic (policing, for example). In education, specifically, the negative impacts of Covid-19 have been particularly detrimental for working class students, and students of colour. This was evident in the furore over how examination alternatives will (re)produce inequalities, and the way that the uneven distribution of resources (between schools and between families) have shaped capacities for home learning, exacerbating a ‘learning gap’ or, more accurately, a provision gap.
As we imagine brighter futures, propelled as we are by a sense that things will never be the same again, our task necessitates a focus on systemic transformation with the most marginalised in mind. This is not a question of simply rearranging the furniture but one of dismantling and rebuilding the whole structure.
NME’s call is important for at least three reasons. Firstly, it highlights, and pushes back against, the reliance on punitive and disciplinary responses to crises. Such punitive authoritarianism has been evident not only in schools but at the level of government which – consistent with the direction of travel in recent years – has put policing and ‘law and order’ at the heart of its response.
Secondly, and relatedly, the call is based upon a recognition that in schools, as in wider society, the effects of such approaches have been deeply racialised and classed. That is, a reliance on school exclusions, like a reliance on the police, disproportionately impacts upon working class and racially minoritised communities.
Thirdly, and crucially, NME’s call is important because it brings us to the question of imagined futures. It offers a glimpse of a brighter future, an indication of how we might transform society for the better. Though the call initially focuses on the pandemic period, particularly highlighting the need for care at a time of such monumental upheaval, it has the potential to serve as a catalyst for the permanent abolition of school exclusions: radical long-lasting change beyond the pandemic.
Amongst an abiding sense that things will never be the same again, the conditions seem ripe for social change. Imploring us to keep those at the sharp end in mind, NME’s moratorium shows how communities engaged in resistance can push to ensure that such change transforms, rather than reinforces, the status quo.
Imagining schooling without exclusions points to a more caring and nurturing education system. In this regard, the moratorium call ties in with the work of other campaigns to offer a fuller vision of a transformed education system. For instance, the work of the Halo Collective, a group of young Black organisers ‘fighting for the protection and celebration of Black hair and hairstyles’, points to a future in which school policies no longer discriminate against Black students and other students of colour, and the NoPolice in Schools campaign imagines a future in which schools are supportive environments free from the presence of police officers. Relatedly, the work of young activists at Body Count encourages us to imagine educational futures that looks to transformative, rather than punitive, approaches to justice.
As the Black Studies scholar George Lipsitz observes, ‘domination produces resistance, and resistance plants the seeds of a new society in the shell of the old’. With this in mind, those of us committed to social justice would do well to take these oppositional movements as a springboard for our imaginations.
Remi Joseph-Salisbury is a Presidential Fellow in Ethnicity and Inequalities at the University of Manchester. He writes on race, ethnicity, racism and anti-racism, particularly in the context of education and policing. He is co-author of the forthcoming ‘Anti-Racist Scholar-Activism’, author of ‘Black Mixed-Race Men’, and co-editor of ‘The Fire Now’. He has also authored and co-authored several reports recently on race and racism in education. He is a member of the Northern Police Monitoring Project, and the No Police in Schoolscampaign.
Looking Back to Look Forward: Imagining a World Without State Violence
By: Liz Fekete
The abolitionist call to ‘defund the police’ was dismissed tout court as ‘nonsense’ by Labour leader Keir Starmer last summer, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and at the height of Black Lives Matter protests in the UK. Starmer added that he would have ‘no truck with that’, as his support for the police was ‘very, very strong’. More recently, home secretary Priti Patel declared herself in full agreement with a colleague who justified the police’s violent response to the Sarah Everard vigil on the grounds that it had been hijacked by ‘those who seek to defund the police and destabilise our society’.
At the heart of this knee-jerk rejection of the calls to ‘defund and divest’ is a distorted vision of abolitionism as a crude attack on the police that undermines a vital public service for the maintenance of the ‘natural’ order. However, if policing does not deliver safety and destabilises community life instead, shouldn’t we be able to advocate for alternatives?Increased funding for policing (new weaponry, the expansion of the immigration and counter-extremism units, the embedding of quasi paramilitary squads in multicultural working-class neighbourhoods) has coincided with neoliberal economic policies that privatise state assets and shrink the welfare state. Abolitionists’ daring response to the social crises that this has engendered is to suggest that we divest from ‘law and order’ and redirect resources upstream so as to address mental ill-health, fund youth clubs, build affordable homes, and counter the harms done by racism and sexism at their roots. That’s not ‘nonsense’, or ‘anti-police’, it’s a simple demand for a more rational and more humane use of resources.
Today, abolitionists are under attack from those who believe that the violence of policing is necessary to maintain the existing order. Imagining a world where state violence is no longer an acceptable way of resolving social problems necessitates an active engagement with history.
The tumultuous period we are living through is redolent of earlier periods when ordinary people rejected the existing order, whether it was the divine right of kings or tyrannical forms of governance.Rejecting the idea that history was made by the great and the good, or educated, professional modernisers, they set out to make history themselves, and abolitionist demands – far from being new – were at the centre of such calls for justice.
Today’s abolitionist arguments, associated with Critical Resistance and theMovement for Black Lives (MBL) in the US reverberate across continents and time, echoing the English Diggers of the seventeenth century (abolition of the aristocracy and property in land),Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Ellen Craft,Robert Wedderburnand Harriet Tubman (abolition of slavery), the Communist organisers Rosa Luxemburgand Claudia Jones(opposition to militarism/abolition of imperialist wars), the Brazilian indigenous environmentalist and trades unionistChico Mendes(abolition of the savage extraction of resources from the Amazon). And there are pre-democracy resonances too. For even before the existence of the modern state, subjugated people, rebelling against exploitation, illegitimate authority, cruel punishment and oppressive laws, spoke from their unique abolitionist frameworks. such as the 1381 Peasants Revolt against the poll tax. Taking advantage of periods when ‘the old world… is running up like parchment in the fire’, the leaders of rebellions, their visions of a fairer world immortalised in abolitionist tracts, voiced scepticism about institutions, beliefs and systems of punishment. Each and every one of these abolitionist thinkers were ridiculed and condemned in their times. Their persecutors were those who believed that the seemingly ‘natural’ order was sacred and immutable.
Looking back gives us the historical tradition in which to contextualise abolitionist demands but they do not explain the current moment. We need to acknowledge that the modern state and modern policing are very different to those of the past. It isthe state that provides the authority and scaffolding from which all other violence flows – its power, to paraphrase Bertold Brecht, is the ‘storm’ that ‘bends the backs of the roadworkers’ – we need to understand how the state operates in the neoliberal context.
In a neoliberal market state – where government serves the interests of the market – state power is far less constrained than it was in the twentieth century. After the Chartists, and following the rise of the trade union movement, the industrial working class had bargaining power and clout. Today, the power of trades unions has been dissipated and working-class communities have been decimated by decades of neglect and austerity.Much of ‘law and order’, including the running of prisons, is provided by private security companies. Today’s private/public police corps keeps a lid on the crisis, while serving the interests of both state and market.
As shown by death after death in police custody(Sean Rigg, Leon Briggs, Kevin Clarke, George Nkencho, to name a few), the escalation of police force is lethal. If the police cannot be trusted to take someone experiencing a mental health crisis to a place of safety then we need to create a community corps trained in de-escalation techniques and motivated by a creed of care. This is what is meant by an abolitionist step based on a pragmatic demand to de-escalate violence.
This is the time when a dynamic counter culture to an unbridled capitalism can take root. But counter cultures can fail when they (however inadvertently) replicate the violence of existing power relations. Many of the social movements that we were involved with in the 1980s and 1990s failed to remove harmful power relations from their structures, replicating the state’s racism and patriarchy, for instance. State power today has become more opaque – and herein lies a new challenge for contemporary abolitionism.
Repeated panics about law and order, as Stuart Hallfamously said, serve an ideological function related to social control, creating public support for ‘policing the crisis’. Under neoliberalism this involves mass criminalisation and an expanded prison state. It is not ‘nonsense’ to suggest we take money away from the police and redirect it upstream. What abolitionism offers is a road map to the future, which begins with addressing the social crisis and misery in front of us. If this is utopia, it is within reach.
“Progress is the realisation of Utopias” – Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)
Liz Fekete is Director of the Institute of Race Relations and author of A suitable enemy: racism, migration and Islamophobia in Europe (Pluto press, 2009) and Europe’s Fault Lines: racism and the rise of the Right (Verso, 2018) which won the Bread & Roses award for radical publishing 2019. Active in anti-racist movements since the 1980s , she was an expert witness at the Basso Permanent People’s Tribunal on asylum and the World Tribunal on Iraq.
“The guerrilla studies! The guerrilla studies!” — exclaims Huey P Newton to an amorphous assembly of believers. The camera is zoomed a little too close to his face, abstracting him, abstracting expression. Huey is grieving, as one does when one is black and alive and a revolutionary. Grief is a revolutionary fervour, except when it isn’t.
I’m watching a documentary, piecing things together, studying I guess, that’s how you learn about the map, you listen to stories told by decipherers, you decipher, you study, you play.
A believer himself — you have to see it to believe it — Huey is stark, animated, severe, his body willing other bodies, to believe-see-become, to know for themselves the flailing common sense of deprival, to gather each other together, to gather in order to grieve-rename-articulate. To gather in order to trust.
Huey is grieving and/or I am grieving the dreams I did not or could not or would not author, but clung to nonetheless. Perhaps they are never dreams, instead, illusions. We are asleep for and/or to our dreams, awaking to persistent allusions of longevity and/or protection, illusions of a safety somehow unmade, uninsured insurance, ensured endurance.
Sleep! Where dreams come to live and die and be born, in the juice-dark renewal of rest. This is what happens in the dark, between dust and books and soil, left vulnerable to misinterpretation — is this, too, a tactic? — to the labour play of prayerful solutions, aghast, empty, disbelieving believers, containers of the lost colony, found over and again in jest, unjust, extrapolated and fed to children, to pigs rolled around and worn, as masks are and are not.
“The guerrilla studies!” — it’s been a riff slow roasting in the oven of my mind. I have painted it black and called it something holy, wrapped it up and swallowed it, hole. I have looked in the mirror and seen no answers, then I looked in other mirrors and saw some thing, discovered someone else that already discovered this; that other someone long ago and soon, who left some thing for the undead guerrillas.
In the annals of our freedom finding, we find our way, our treason trail. Feverishly, mouthful by unwholesome mouthful, we gather recipes, a cataclysm and another, again, we are reminded of the violence of this process, again, this blood-filled wreckage, its choppiness. We acquaint ourselves with the ingredients of our undoing, yes, we must be undone by our finding, our study — study will undo you — the this/them/that will graduate and be gone from our makeshift nests.
Won’t it? Will it? I? We? Us? All? Our pieces? What? Will be? Will be? — “The guerrilla studies!” — the warfare, the welfare, of the people — yours — people, which is to say community, except that it isn’t that simple, you can’t go around saying things like that, you won’t be believed, you won’t be able to believe it, and there must be something drifting beyond the sanctity of black and alive and revolutionary, something else in motion, tangible, in front of you. An imagined community, un-starved of touch, contactless, held because of it, within it, despite it — in order to spite it, this notion of a nation. We feel for each other in the night light.
To be sure, we must untether from this ghostly wifi, the unseverable connection of illusory cords, turns out your mother is a liar, if she ever was a mother, with all that interference. Abolition is — well, you will have to study it to be sure, — entailing admonition, admittance — in the future we will call abolition history, we will call it presence.
The guerrilla knows that the history of abolition is all around them, adding salt to taste, dividing portions, plating up, washing cutlery with an alkaline preparation. We grieving abolitionist guerrillas, having fessed up to our guilt, our deviant flagellant shame, having consented to each others flesh and mortified it, having been wrong wrong and wrong-er, without the rest of our maps — at a certain point your study will become you — we will eradicate this oppressive vocabulary of pretence, this warlike ledger, water-logged, waterlooed, blue as in hue, as in 14 and 92, hear we, re-membering our recipes, studying how to feed ourselves…
Imani Robinson is an artist and interdisciplinary writer whose practice combines performance, oration, poetry and critical theory, exploring themes of black geographies, the afterlives of transatlantic slavery, abolition and radical resistance. They are one half of Languid Hands, an artistic and curatorial collaboration with Rabz Lansiquot.
I was recently invited to write about the “future” and was reminded of the workshop you organised twelve years ago in Johannesburg around the same theme. The most striking memory of the “future” I retain from my visit is not an argument or a paper, but rather the strong sensation of being in the future of a collapsed apartheid system, playing in my mind a fast-forward movement toward the future following the still-expected fall of the Israeli regime of occupation. I didn’t anticipate then that shortly after that visit, instead of fast forwarding, I’d experiment with an expansive form of rewinding that would actually bring me back to Africa. This time, I would go to its northern tip, and not as a guest, but as a native, a prodigal child.
You could not help thinking, you wrote to me after you read my open letter to Sylvia Wynter about the disappearance of Jews from Africa, that it was addressed to you too. You were not wrong. I have taken a break from writing the kinds of texts that are addressed to everyone and to no one in particular at the same time, and now I’m writing only letters, addressed to people whose language rebels against the spatial and temporal condition of empire. Reading your essays on Africa, I felt addressed by their speculative descriptions of a borderless world, and your notion of “redistributions of the earth.” Instead of fast forwarding toward a utopian project for the future, I’m interested in rewinding imperial history and thinking within the incompleteness of the past. Lately, I have been writing letters to my ancestors buried in North Africa, in the hope of awakening them from the slumbered colonial consciousness in which they were trapped, while they saw their descendants being hijacked by and into dissociated and manufactured histories and memories of other nation states. Disrupting imperial onto-epistemologies cannot be achieved without recalling our ancestors and stirring up their refusal of empire’s new realities and geographies.
I was born to an Algerian Jewish father but was not allowed to recognise myself as an Algerian Jew. With me, and others in my generation, thousands of years of Jewish life in North Africa were disrupted. I was born to a Palestinian Jewish mother. I was not allowed to recognise myself as a Palestinian Jew. I reclaim these two identities that were made unimaginable. To be what my parents were, became with the creation of the state of Israel and France’s obstinate refusal to decolonize Algeria following WWII, an onto-epistemological aberration that I nonetheless insist on embodying. I was born in 1962, in the year when the idiom “no longer” could be used to describe Arab Jewish life in the Maghreb, as if it were a bygone past. This “no longer” is imperialism’s signature, which aims to make Africa forget its prodigal children, but Africa listens to the sighs of their ancestors, who are ready to be awakened and recalled, and to attest to their own chagrin, after being left alone with no one allowed to come to hear what they still have to say.
In 1962, when I was born, Algeria, my ancestors’ home for thousands of years, was liberated from 132 years of colonialism. For many years, as I taught The Battle of Algiers, it was like teaching others’ anti-colonial struggles. Enraged, I was slowly awakening out of my own imperial slumber, and I came to understand that this film is about our people, Algerians, a people France told us we were “no longer” part of, as Israel then reaffirmed. During the battle of Algiers, the idea that Arab Jews would soon live there no longer was inconceivable. That it took decades of unlearning imperialism, and almost a decade of writing Potential History, for me to say I am an Algerian Jew shows how deep imperial human engineering goes and how entangled it is with what you call “risk management techniques.”
In the year when I was born, four basic facts disappeared from the global imaginary of the anti-imperial and anti-colonial annals: that the Jews in Algeria were colonised in 1830 like everyone else in Algeria; that they were endemic to Algeria no less than Muslims or Kabyle people among whom they lived; that in 1870 they were not granted citizenship but forced to become French citizens in their own country; and that decolonisation should have been their fate too, even if they had become French in some sense when they were made citizens of France. These facts, stirred from oblivion, become impediments to imperial progress.
I was born fourteen years after the Zionists destroyed Palestine and established Israel in its place. I was assigned the role of a weapon instead of an identity. Being “Israeli” means keeping Palestinians outside of Israel, making their return impossible and normalising the theft of their lands and property. At the same time, this command to live as a human weapon forces different Jews to gravitate toward a new violent common—Israel. This new common blurs their memories of having been diverse hyphenated Jews, whose history had little, if anything, to do with what was offered to them as their history—the history of the Jewish people, a historical subject crafted by Europe, whose destiny was to be fulfilled in Israel. I was made to forget my ancestors’ life and history in the Maghreb, and to prove, simply because I had been born on this land, that a state for the Jews in Palestine has a right to exist, regardless of the harm and the lies it produces to justify its existence. Its existence comes at the expense of people whose rights to live with others, in justice, while caring for their shared world, continue to be superseded.
The creation of the state of Israel was part of the “new world order” imposed by Euro-American imperial powers, who appointed themselves as liberators, while they continued to pursue genocidal practices in their colonies and in the settler-colonial spaces they crafted. A state for the Jews that European powers granted to the Jews, on lands they had no right to distribute, was a violent solution to the “Jewish problem.” This was what the Zionists, self-appointed representatives of the Jewish people, aimed to achieve, not the survivors of the Nazi extermination plans. The survivors’ urgent need to heal, wherever they found themselves at the end of the war as they recovered from campaigns of extermination and world destruction, were forfeited. Instead of redress, repair, and cessation of the imperial violence that these Euro-American powers had directed against different racialised peoples for centuries, Jews were offered a bargain: a state of their own that would make them just like others, a Judeo-Christian state apparatus programmed against Muslims and Arabs. The creation of the state of Israel was not for the Jewish people, but rather against many different Jews, primarily Arab Jews, whose life in North Africa and the Middle East was jeopardised by its creation and unsurprisingly was “no longer” within a few decades. Unlearning assigned identities is necessary for the past to become incomplete and for borders to collapse, so that a borderless world will not seem like an unattainable utopia but rather, like a return to the non-imperial geography that was stolen from our ancestors.
Yours, Ariella Aïsha, January 17th, 2021
Ariella Azoulay is an author, art curator, filmmaker, and theorist of photography and visual culture. She is Professor of Modern Culture and Media in the Department of Comparative Literature at Brown University. Her latest book is Potential History—Unlearning Imperialism (Verso, 2019).
The Black Lives Matter movement has called for a global reckoning with the long history of anti-black racism and has specifically focused on the role of police in enforcing and enacting racial disadvantage. Included in their call to “defund the police” is a specific rejection of efforts to “reform the police” through interventions like training and community policing and instead focus on reimagining public safety independently of policing. This represents a sharp break with past efforts to eliminate racist policing.
In 1999 the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry found a problem of institutional racism within British policing. Officers had failed to take Lawrence’s murder seriously, had mishandled their relationship with the family, and showed a general indifference to the wellbeing of communities of colour. Later revelations exposed the fact that police were even surveilling the Lawrence family in order to undermine their efforts to hold police accountable. The ensuing Macpherson Report contained 70 recommendations designed to address racism within policing and the larger society. It included calls for police diversification, enhanced training around racial tolerance, and improved procedures for investigating racially motivated crimes all of which were designed to “increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities.”
Twenty years later, significant gains have been made in hiring more diverse officers and implementing a variety of diversity and sensitivity trainings. And while more could be done, in theory, along these lines, there is little evidence that this has significantly reduced the disproportionate negative impacts of policing on communities of colour. Arrest rates, police use of force, and deaths in custody have not been reduced. Non-white communities continue to be over-policed. This should not be surprising, in part because the Macpherson report specifically said that there should be no change to underlying policing practices. They should just be done by a more diverse force with more racial sensitivity.
At the root of this problematic dynamic is the unwillingness of the Macpherson report or subsequent efforts to reduce racism through police reform to look at what is really driving deep racial inequalities. For the last 40 years the political leadership of the UK has largely capitulated to a politics of neoliberalism and austerity. In the face of global competition, they have cut services to those in need while subsidising the already successful through tax breaks and deregulation in hopes that they will become so successful that some of their new wealth will trickle down to everyone else. But this system has not produced widespread prosperity. It has produced a small group of extremely rich beneficiaries and growing precarity for everyone else. And the burden of this has fallen disproportionately on communities of colour. At the same time, it has fed racial resentment among white populations who have come to blame foreigners and racial minorities for their declining economic status.
The result of this has also been an increase in certain types of conventional street crime as well as problems of low-level disorder and the growth of so-called “vulnerable populations.” The management of these “problems” has fallen to the police. This has looked like increased police involvement in managing those who are homeless, young people acting out in schools, responding to mental health crisis calls, and intensively policing youth of colour across the board on the pretext of stopping drugs or violence.
In response to these failures there is a deep reimagining underway of what public safety could look like independent of the criminal legal system. A growing number of people are calling for replacing police-centred strategies with community investments and commitments to long term strategies for producing greater racial and economic justice. Groups like the 4Front Project in London are demanding that government address the very real problem of youth violence by investing in youth instead of police. They take a youth centred perspective that understands the challenges young people face in a hostile environment in which their families are in crisis, schools lack resources, and the prospects of long-term stable employment seem non-existent. Any effort to produce real safety for young people must start with stable housing, family supports, access to high quality schools, and the prospect of upward mobility.
Similarly, Kids of Colour in Manchester is demanding that schools become sights of safe and successful learning, rather than extensions of the criminal legal system or as we say in the US, “the school to prison pipeline.” As young people face increasing pressures at home and in the community just as educational and social supports are diminished, this is producing disruptive behaviour in and around schools. Rather than framing this as a discipline problem to be counteracted by increased suspensions and policing, they are demanding more resources for schools and the families of these young people.
This kind of reimagining of public safety asks us to reject the false equating of justice with punishment and to instead invest in new systems of justice rooted in restoring communities and individuals so that fewer harms are experienced including those inflicted by the criminal legal system. These “restorative justice” approaches work with young people to develop real interpersonal and communal accountability and to take steps to repair past harms and prevent new harms from occurring.
Racial justice is not going to come from a black police officer, it’s going to be achieved by addressing racism in a broad array of institutional settings such as housing and employment discrimination, unequal funding of social services and infrastructure and the failure to come to terms with the legacies of slavery and colonialism at the root of these ongoing disparities.
Alex S. Vitale is Professor of Sociology and Coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and a Visiting Professor at London Southbank University. He has spent the last 30 years writing about policing and consults both police departments and human rights organisations internationally. Prof. Vitale is the author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics and The End of Policing. His academic writings on policing have appeared in Policing and Society, Police Practice and Research, Mobilisation, and Contemporary Sociology. He is also a frequent essayist, whose writings have been published in The NY Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Nation, Vice News, Fortune, and USA Today. He has also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR, PBS, Democracy Now, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
Where colonialism universalises the future, we must not. Where it disciplines all possibility to serving the needs of capital, our imaginings must refuse to. Where it presupposes European Whiteness as the final destination, we must swerve elsewhere, or be killed, and our imaginings of what next must leave no such room for exception. To outmanoeuvre the grasps of coloniality we must project forward in un-intelligible ways!
I say this because when imagining the future, it is tempting to seek blueprints. What, specifically, will those accountability processes look like when policing is abolished? How, exactly, will we organise society after nation-states and borders are dismantled? To seek concrete answers tends to universalise Eurocentric ‘solutions’ once again, and our inclination for ‘alternatives’ forgoes the possibility of leaving some things entirely behind. Instead of standardised ‘replacements’ perhaps the future should look a million different ways, filled with multitudes and uncertainty.
It is not an-other world that requires imagining. It is many, authored by many. And it is in the process of crafting the tools to build parts of what we can imagine, that what we could never imagine might manifest. ‘Let’s make new tools to dismantle the house’, could become an unexpected journey to kindling a fire that eats it up instead. Or, crafting what turns out to be a digging implement that collapses the house onto itself. Or, tearing open a dam elsewhere that drowns the house in ways never considered before.
It is tempting to look for Big Moments in the past to draw inspiration for this. Revolutions, insurrections and rebellions. But I am more interested in the overlooked imaginative practices of those whose world is an-Other world already. The practices of racialised, disabled and immigrant women, whose unglamorous practices make different futures possible all the time.
I am thinking about the immigrant women who told me they pretended not to understand instructions of factory bosses. Their playing on racist assumptions claimed an alternative timeline altogether. One which refused commodification into surplus value for the company, resisting racial capitalism’s claims to the entirety of their future. I am thinking of the kameti and pardner systems that migrant communities have used to pool, borrow and lend money without having their futures imprisoned to debt bondage through interest charges of banks who bend all futures to their subservience. Mutual care networks of disabled people disorder space/time by disobeying the demand to direct all futures towards the most valuable output for capital. By directing their worlds towards the wellbeing of lives deemed ‘unproductive’ excess, they invest in the inconceivable. The everyday de-escalation of conflict often shouldered by women – ‘that toy belongs to both of you! you have to share!’ – is a vision of collective ownership that disrupts the idea that property ownership must necessitate exploitation and dispossession.
So many different nows already exist that are unthinkable to the colonial imaginary. They create worlds we are told are impossible or would require years of reform but cannot be instated overnight. But our worlds are changed overnight by detentions, raids, arrests and assaults all the time. Impossibility is simply the vocabulary of those invested in the status quo. Their vocabulary aims to naturalise a deeply constructed world where genocidal policies are called ‘immigration controls’; imprisonment is ‘protecting us’; exploitation is ‘the 9 til 5’. When we give other names to this world, we make visible the fact many things we are told are natural, are man-made. This is not mere rhetorical squabbling. Anything man-made holds the possibility of being unmade, so the names we give not only reveal other nows, they make claim to other futures altogether.
Therefore, small, everyday practices can prick holes in the universalising future coloniality has draped before our eyes. Those practices are often rooted in the most derided of revolutionary forces: love and care. Because that is exactly where the most unimaginable futures stem from. From racialised and disabled people daring to imagine we might make it into the future. Undocumented people daring to imagine safety and reunion. To imagine ourselves not only alive, but laughing in our own futures, necessitates the end of the world as we know it and asserts space for a multiplicity of futures that might get us there. Afterall, our futures must not only be utilitarian.
When we imagine redistributed global resources; harm resolved by addressing material conditions instead of criminalisation; an end to imperialism in its military, ecological and development forms; or anything else – those imaginings are not ends in themselves. They are the bare minimum we can imagine, as a means to a future in which we may exist in ways beyond what we can imagine. Not just where we might have beyond our imagination, but where we might live, think, learn, heal and worship in ways beyond our wildest dreams.
Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan is an educator, award-winning poet and published writer from Leeds. She is the author of poetry collection, Postcolonial Banter, co-author of the anthology, A Fly Girl’s Guide to University: Being a woman of colour at Cambridge and other institutions of power and elitism; co-essayist in I Refuse to Condemn: resisting racism in times of national security, and host of the Breaking Binaries podcast. Her work disrupts common understandings of history, race, knowledge and power – particularly interrogating the purpose of narratives about Muslims, gender and violence. She is published in The Guardian, Independent, Al-Jazeera, gal-dem and her poetry performances have millions of views online. Suhaiymah is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London and her poetry, articles and books can be found on University and school syllabi.