Talitha Wing.

June 2020

London-based actress and writer Talitha Wing, opens her purest and honest vision about being a woman of colour in a racist society sharing with us her experience and poetry.

"This is the time for change. I’m going to speak up, I am going to protest, I’m going to have those difficult conversations with my friends and family. Enough is enough and I refuse to let my children, and my children’s children grow up in a world where racism is the normal. Finding my voice on this matter has set me free. It has made me realise I’m powerful and I don’t have to silently sit in the box that society has put me in". 

I still to this day, get very nervous when I am asked to talk about race. It’s always been something that I’ve wanted to be perfectly articulate on. I thought that I can’t speak up, if I don’t get all my wording exactly right and have a completely rounded understanding and knowledge of black oppression throughout history  - which I’ve now learnt is impossible, because there will always be another book to read, film to watch and podcast to listen to. So, I try to be less scared, when I talk about race now, I try to speak from the heart and to speak my truth, as a woman of colour. There have been countless times when I have experienced racist micro and macro aggressions and have feared not being articulate enough to challenge them, which has meant I haven’t stood up for myself. I refuse to do this any longer. 

I grew up in a predominately white town and have always been acutely aware of being ‘other’. When I was a kid, I knew  deep down that I was different to the majority of children at my school, but when I looked around the playground, I sort of pretended to myself that, that wasn’t the case. 

I managed to convince myself that I was the same and could get by on pretending - and so every time somebody made a comment like “why is your hair so curly?” or “why is your skin that colour?” it almost came as a shock to me, a renewed realisation that oh yeah I am completely different to everybody else, and that constant reminder was really hard, especially when it happened every single day. 

I remember on my first day of secondary school I went in with cornrows, and everyone was teasing me, saying it was weird and a ‘boy’s hairstyle.’ Since then I have had a difficult relationship with my hair, I’ve chemical straightened and damaged it so much in an attempt to achieve a straight, long haired look, like many of my white peers had, when realistically I had a head of tight afro curls. I think that’s something I’ve held onto. I still struggle to embrace my natural hair. I still hide behind braids and extensions, it’s an on going battle for me, I never learnt how to do my natural hair properly because there was no one to teach me. I actually recently cut my natural hair very short, something I’ve needed to do for about 10 years, because I had all these heat and chemically damaged  wispy ends. It sounds like something so trivial but it was such a scary thing to do because it made me look even more different to the women, that I have seen on mainstream media for years. It ended up feeling like such a relief when I gave it the chop, it was the first time i’ve looked in the mirror and thought I am ok like this. I don’t wake up every morning and instantly love it, it’s something I have to work at and I still get braids and extensions most of the time because I enjoy that, but I’m learning to be equally content with my natural self. 

The whole world is based on a system where white is the mainstream, white is the normal and so if you’re not white, you will always be aware of that. That’s why I find it very hard when people say ‘I don’t even see colour’ or in terms of my work as an actor, when people talk about colour blind casing. I find that a really troubling term because there is no such thing. If you put me in a show, or you put me in a play or you put me on the TV, people are going to see me as I am. Of course they are going to see my colour and so they should. It shouldn’t be about colour blindness, it should be about embracing blackness and celebrating that, so that there isn’t just this one ‘normal’. None of us should be seen as more valuable, than the rest of us. 

I think the two things that I have struggled with most, really tie in with the racism that ethnic minorities face today. One of those is; self acceptance, I’ve struggled finding acceptance of myself and understanding who I am, in a world that has often said who I am isn’t as valuable. I have had to do so much extra work to learn about my black side and culture, because it wasn’t taught to me in mainstream education. I wasn’t surrounded by many black people, so it’s been hard to find that within myself. The second part of that is acceptance on a wider scale, but thankfully I think that’s changing for me now.

Talitha as Sasha in the new "Alex Rider" series

For so long I thought that I had to accept the world for what it is, accept the fact that it’s built on a 400 year history of black oppression, slavery, the silencing of black voices, and white washing of our history, and it’s only in the last few years that I am realising that NO, I don’t have to accept that. This is the time for change. I’m going to speak up, I am going to protest, I’m going to have those difficult conversations with my friends and family. Enough is enough and I refuse to let my children, and my children’s children grow up in a world where racism is the normal. Finding my voice on this matter has set me free. It has made me realise I’m powerful and I don’t have to silently sit in the box that society has put me in. 

I think the two things that I have struggled with most, really tie in with the racism that ethnic minorities face today. One of those is; self acceptance, I’ve struggled finding acceptance of myself and understanding who I am, in a world that has often said who I am isn’t as valuable. I have had to do so much extra work to learn about my black side and culture, because it wasn’t taught to me in mainstream education.

I wasn’t surrounded by many black people, so it’s been hard to find that within myself. The second part of that is acceptance on a wider scale, but thankfully I think that’s changing for me now. For so long I thought that I had to accept the world for what it is, accept the fact that it’s built on a 400 year history of black oppression, slavery, the silencing of black voices, and white washing of our history, and it’s only in the last few years that I am realising that NO, I don’t have to accept that. This is the time for change. I’m going to speak up, I am going to protest, I’m going to have those difficult conversations with my friends and family. Enough is enough and I refuse to let my children, and my children’s children grow up in a world where racism is the normal. Finding my voice on this matter has set me free. It has made me realise I’m powerful and I don’t have to silently sit in the box that society has put me in.

It’s a particularly emotional time in the world right now. My heart is heavy seeing all of these triggering and graphic images and videos in the media. Seeing the injustices that are happening every day is hard, and has an emotional impact so I think it’s also very important to look after ourselves, to avoid burning out. It’s all about finding a balance between fighting for equality and change and to continue to move forward, but also remembering that we are only human and that we can only continue this fight for the longevity if we look after our mental health as well.

Another thing I’ve been so thankful for during this time has ben having a community of Black and Ethnic Minority people around me, and really feeling that love and support, it’s so powerful to be able to speak freely with my friends and my sister but also to have these difficult conversations with my white friends and them being willing to listen. Even apologises, I know some people might think an apology is just a word, but for me being a poet, words are so important so when someone apologises for something they said to me that at the time they didn’t see as being offensive or they didn’t really understand the motivations behind it - to receive an apology is such a meaningful thing because that to me shows that that person has changed or taken the time to reflect back on the problematic things they have said or done and how it has affected the person to whom they said it. That’s the kind of thing that gives me hope. 

And in all of this I’m not saying that I’ve always got it 100% right. I know that being a mixed race woman,as a light skin brown woman I have had so many privileges. I have seen myself represented on screen more times than my dark skin peers have. I’ve been able to pass as “not-fully-black” or be considered in line with Hollywood’s acceptable version of a black woman. I know that, and I’m aware of that and I’m working everyday to learn more about that. There are so many parts of this movement that don’t apply to me, and my experience will never be comparable to dark skin woman and men and I think it’s very important for me to make that clear. There have definitely been times when I’ve been really confused and conflicted about where being mixed race puts me in all of this. I’ve thought I’m not white enough, but I’m also not black enough and if we look back in history I come from the side of both the oppressed and the oppressor and that’s still something i’m trying to navigate and unpick for myself. I do try to remember that it’s all a learning curve and as long as we are trying to educate and better ourselves always, that’s the best we can do.

We will all make mistakes but I think if we keep asking the right questions, the right answers will come. I haven’t felt this sad for a long time but I equally haven’t felt this hopeful for a long time because it really feels like we’re on the edge of revolution, we’re living through a chapter in history right now, a chapter that the generations to come will study, and when that day comes I hope that we can all say we were part of the change.

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