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Richard Parks: Can I Be Welsh And Black?

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Richard Parks

Richard Parks, former Welsh Rugby International and multiple world record adventurer is to present a powerful, personal and at times poignant look at what it means to be Welsh and Black in today’s Wales.

The special hour long film features sporting stars Ryan Giggs and Ashton Hewitt, Professor Charlotte Williams OBE, an expert in Welsh identity and some of Wales brightest creative artists including actor Mali Ann Rees and musicians Sonny Double 1 and Mace the Great.

Pictured: Richard Parks and Ryan Giggs

The documentary film, due to be broadcast on ITV Cymru Wales at 8pm on Tuesday 27th October  is a story of national pride and belonging.  Richard courageously shares his experiences and vulnerabilities as a successful black man and recent father who has flown the Welsh flag his whole life.

Said Richard:  “Since becoming a dad to Fred in recent years, I’ve been reflecting on my life, career and experience, which has been accelerated by the forced introspection during lockdown and the global Black Lives Matter movement.

“As a father, I hope that my son doesn’t bear the conflicted identity of being a mixed heritage Welshman, like his dad. Not white enough, not black enough and not Welsh enough for some.

“I’m not suggesting that Wales is more racist than anywhere else, but racism in Wales definitely exists and needs addressing. And you can’t fix anything without fully understanding the problem.

“I’m going to talk to a variety of brilliant black and mixed race Welsh people to better understand our place in Wales’ past, present and future.”

Richard has skied more solo, unsupported and unassisted miles in Antarctica than anyone in history. He  is the first person to climb the highest mountain on each of the world’s continents and stand on the North and South Poles in a calendar year.

But in the hour long special he admits “I’m taking on the most daunting journey of my life. I’m staying here in Wales and asking a very simple question.

“Can I be Welsh and Black?”

Richard is of Welsh and British Jamaican heritage, and like many mixed-race and black children he didn’t always see role models who reflected him.

He talks with one of Wales’ most iconic mixed-race sporting heroes, Ryan Giggs.  The Wales football team manager gives an insight into his childhood in Cardiff and the passion within the national football team to stand up to racism.

“I’d define myself as mixed race – my mum’s white, my dad’s black; it’s as simple as that”, Ryan said. “I’ve never really shouted about either. It’s just who I am.

The football manager and sporting legend remembers visiting relatives living in Cardiff’s dockland communities.

“I loved it.  I mean, there used to be a carnival every year down the docks  and I used to love going to that but it was just normal for me. It was just normal. So it was great for me to have that diversity”

Ryan also talks about his decision to take the knee at the first post lockdown round of international matches earlier this year.

“I think together with the team and with the squad we were determined to make sure that we took the knee and we made sure that we, we were representing  our country and telling everyone that, you know, we don’t put up with discrimination or racism.”

Rich also heads back to one of his former clubs – Dragon’s Rugby, to talk with Ashton Hewitt who has become a beacon of anti-racism and education on social media.

Ashton explains: “Somebody sent me a video of a black man getting burnt alive. And there’s probably some, you know,  12, 13, 14 year old, on their phone, looking through Twitter and that’s come up and they’re thinking that, you know, that’s what people think of them in this country.

“To think that, you know, the colour of your skin is just dictating whether you’re Welsh or not in some people’s minds is just unbelievable and it’s sad.”

Richard hears many tales of racism during his journey.  Welsh identity and Social Care expert Professor Charlotte Williams OBE shares experiences from her work and home lives.

“I can remember being assumed to be the cleaner very often, rather than the lecturer, by students and other academics.

“And even with my grandchildren – some of my grandchildren are quite light skinned – I am assumed to this day to be their maid or their carer, or their babysitter, someone who is taking them out.”

Now Professor Williams is advising the Welsh Government on the teaching of black and minority ethnic history.  The leading academic sees grounds for optimism, despite those experiences, insisting that “Wales has always been diverse”.

“We can all subscribe to Welsh identity as our civic identity.  There are many, many interpretations of that and anybody who wants to contribute to Wales, is proud of Wales, is investing in Wales, is claiming themselves as Welsh, in those terms, is part of the story. And that’s a more inclusive construction of Welsh identity. And that’s the one I’m going for.”

The rugby veteran and adventuring superstar also finds hope in the lives of a new generation of people working in Welsh culture and the arts.

Mali Ann Rees, a talented bilingual actor from Cardiff believes the situation is definitely improving.  “More and more people are going to know that the arts are for them, but people can’t be what they can’t see. So I think for me, especially, growing up, I didn’t really think it was like a career option but hopefully that’s going to change now and that means there’ll be more representation on television.”

Rising stars of the grime scene, Mace The Great and Sonny Double 1, talk about their pride in being both Welsh and Black

Said Sonny “As long as I’ve been making music, I’ve always wanted to represent Wales musically, through hip hop and dance music or whatever I can do, because that’s what I wanted to do with my music.”

“No kid is born racist. That parents put that on him. The parents say, ‘you can’t be round that type of person’”,  added Mace.

Rich discusses what he’s learned with Vaughan Gething, Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services, who is also a friend.  He argues that change can come, through ways that Welsh history is taught.

“It isn’t about saying ‘you must accept the last hundred years of teaching Welsh history have all been wrong,” argues the minister.

“It’s more about ‘look at the whole of our history and all the different people who have been part of our story and look at who we are today and the story you want to create for tomorrow’ and that is for everyone. It’s not just for you and me and our kids, it’s for everyone to say that’s a part of the country that I have.”

Richard concludes: “The title of the show is ‘Can I be Welsh and Black’ and the answer to that was always yes and it still is. I just hope the Wales my son Fred, and indeed all our children grow up in, is one where their Welshness isn’t questioned because of the colour of their skin.”

Richard Parks: Can I Be Welsh And Black? will air next week on ITV Cymru Wales, 8pm, Tuesday 27 October then online at itv.com/walesprogrammes

Rhys Gregory
Editor of Wales247.co.uk

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