"Where colonialism universalises the future, we must not."

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.

This piece was commissioned as part of the Imagined Futures Series.