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I feared I’d be isolated – but being Black in Kent is a joyful experience

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Original article from Kent Live

Kent is often not known for it's diversity.

But for playwright and actor Tanya Loretta Dee, her experience of moving from London to Margate was something of a surprise.

Though not a Kent native herself, Tanya – who has dual Jamaican and Irish heritage – moved here little under two years go, in October 2019, and since then has worked on a play collaboratively with the People Dem Collective.

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It has been an uncomfortable time to be a Black person in the UK recently – not least due to the public outcry and protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, and the horrific racist abuse launched at England's young black footballers following the Euros final.

But this isn't the story Tanya has heard from those she's spoken to in the creation of her play – nor has it been her experience living in Thanet.

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Instead, though by no means untouched by the reality of racism in the UK, Tanya has found Thanet to be a place filled with stories of joy from the Black people she has spoken to.

Tanya, who has appeared in shows such as Doctors, EastEnders, and Whitstable Pearl, moved to Margate for her love of the sea, but was not ignorant of the issues Kent has had with racism:

"I love the sea, I love nature, I love that connectedness to mother earth – and that is what Margate was when I visited.

"I did have a fear at the beginning that I was moving to majority white area – that I was going to be isolated, and I did hear the stories of the big UKIP stronghold [in South Thanet].

"But as a mixed heritage woman living here, I feel very lucky that we've got a strong community of people that are visible, and doing work – I feel very supported."

'I actually realise you do feel your Blackness being here'

She reflected that though Kent wasn't the most diverse place to move to, there was another dimension to being noticeable as a black woman:

"I actually realise you do feel your Blackness being here, but it's not a bad thing, it's a good thing – in fact, you want to celebrate that even more.

"I feel like everywhere I go there is something for me to enjoy and celebrate and get involved with the community is huge here, creative, artistic community and as for me as a writer and an actor."

Writing about Blackness in Thanet

Tanya has written her new play as part of the 'Fully Amplified' podcast series, being produced by Futures Theatre Company, which is aiming to put a spotlight on the real experiences of non-white women and non-binary people through an almost mythical, fantastical reimagination of issues of race and gender.

As part of this, Tanya has spoken to Black and brown people in Thanet whilst working with the People Dem Collective, and found that these communities are not filled with fear or distress – but joy.

"We prepared ourselves to have a lot of heavy conversations about trauma and racism, and the bleakness or horribleness of being a black or dual heritage person in Margate – but that didn't come out," she reflected.

"Actually, it's quite a joyful place to live."

"What came out was because of the work that People Dem collective do, and because of people's strong need for healing and connection."

People Dem Collective are a charity and community organisation based in Margate founded by and representing Black, Brown and Diaspora communities – born out of a lack of space, engagement or inclusion for these groups in their home town.

People Dem Collective organised a series of protests and actions in Thanet last year after the murder of George Floyd.

They have, in the last year, organised to dig deeper into Britain's history of systemic racism, helped organise and lead Thanet's demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd's murder, and want a fundamental shift in the structures that underpin injustice and racism in their local community.

It is this work, this visibility, and this sense of a connected community talking about how they could be "visible and present" that Tanya said was, "really, really beautiful."

Tanya's play, 'Aunty', features on the podcast episode called Black Mermaids, because someone made a comment to her about a hobby she'd dived into in Margate:

"My main thing [in moving here] was swimming – I recently bought a paddleboard and a wetsuit and someone made a comment about looking out to sea [in Margate] and seeing this group of black women – almost like black mermaids, swimming around, which I thought was really sweet."

Balancing real trauma – and real hope

Though the brightness and life condensed in this anecdote partly underpins the inspiration for writing the play, Tanya made the conscious choice to go for a positive story that acknowledged the shadow racism that surrounds the experiences of many black and brown people:

"I wanted to write a piece that doesn't ignore, or eradicate trauma.

"What happened this week with Marcus Rashford, Sancho, Saka – we're all hurt by that, but to be honest, after George Floyd and what happened last year, we know that this has been going on for years and years and years.

"These aren't the first names, we know it [racism] is there, we know it exists.

"And actually, you know, this is what I like about what's happening in Margate – we're asking how we move forward with that.

"I wanted to write a piece that didn't ignore or eradicate the racism from the story, but to say there is hope – through finding those people out there in the community that have your back."

Tanya's play, 'Aunty', featuring three time Olivier-winning actor Sharon D Clarke MBE (Holby City, Doctor Who), will be released on all major podcast platforms on 26th of July, as part of the Fully Amplified series by Futures Theatre Company.

Original Article