As Black History Month comes to an end, WalesOnline has spoken to three generations about what it means to be black in Cardiff.

All born and raised in the capital city, they opened up about the racism they’ve faced throughout their lives, the changes they’ve seen in attitudes to race over time and what they believe still needs to change in the capital and beyond.

You can read all our stories on Black History Month here.

Here are their stories.

Tia Camilleri, 17

Tia Camilleri

17-year-old Tia Camilleri, who’s in her final year of college, recalls that her experience in a predominately white high school in Cardiff was an “isolating experience”.

“When everyone else around you looks different and that’s the beauty standard, you always kind of want to look like them,” she says.

She says she’s faced discrimination for her hair and skin tone, bearing the brunt of “damaging” comments and jokes from her peers.

“Growing up, I wanted to be white for a lot of my life. People didn’t help that by making comments about me being black” she admits.

“I went into high school for the first time, after a battle with loving my hair, with my hair out. I’ve got an Afro.

“People were laughing, people were pointing saying ‘clown’ or ‘Michael Jackson’ – just making jokes like that.

“They think it’s harmless, but really, when it’s taken a lot of courage for you to step outside with your hair like that, after being made to feel like it’s not beautiful, and then just getting that reaction is just really, really damaging.”

Tia says she feels more comfortable in her current college, which is much more diverse than her high school.

But she adds that the casual racism she faced as early as primary school has translated into her experience as a teenager in high school and college – and has even affected her dating life.

“Ever since primary school, when people would couple up, me and the only other black girl in my whole year – almost school – would always get picked last.

“It might sound like it was nothing, or silly, but it means something, because that also happened in high school.”

She continues: “All the stereotypes that people, especially guys, have about black women are that they’re masculine and loud and angry – that typical stereotype.

“I’ve literally had guys say, ‘Black girls do too much’ and ‘I could never date a black girl’.

“You don’t get made to feel like you’re desired or beautiful – and if you do, it’s like, ‘You’re pretty for a black girl’ or ‘I don’t date black girls, but I would date you’. It’s like a fetish almost, or an experiment, and like you’re exotic.”

Tia says she's experienced "subtle" racism in person, but more overt abuse online

Tia says the racism she’s faced in person has been “quite subtle”, while the worst of the abuse comes from people hiding behind a screen.

She uses social media apps where you can join live videos with people from different locations all around the world – including Cardiff.

“You just get people screaming the N-word, or ‘Monkey’, or saying, ‘Ew, why is there a black person on this live?'” she says.

She’s noticed in the last year, since discussions around race erupted after the murder of George Floyd, that people are becoming more aware of racial issues, but she believes there is “still a lot more that needs to be done”.

“People might be seeing posts on Instagram and sharing that, but are they really implementing that into their everyday life?” she asks.

She still has reservations about stepping outside the house with her Afro, admitting that she sometimes “gets looks”.

The teenager also believes more needs to be done to support Cardiff’s black working class communities, to improve black representation across industries.

“I was never able to pay for a dance school, or drama school or Stagecoach, growing up. It’s only free programmes which have enabled me to pursue my creative career,” she says.

Cherie Arlett, 39

Cherie Arlett

The kind of vile abuse Tia receives today from people online is what 39-year-old Cherie Arlett experienced in person throughout her childhood in the 90s, which she admits was “very difficult”.

She remembers a “terrifying” incident when she was just 13-years-old in Caerau, the region of Cardiff where she grew up.

“I was just walking home from hanging out with my mates one time and three guys – distinctly skin-heads, with a certain look to them – were trying to engage with me. I was like ‘no’, and walking and ignoring them. Then they started chasing me,” she says.

“I remember I was running around a car and they were chasing me, and then one of them stopped and said, ‘When I catch you, I’m going to kill you’.

“So that’s when I ran straight down the road and into a pub, and I was like, ‘Help me, help me, these guys are chasing me,’ and they got up straight away, ran out and chased them away.”

She says such incidents were “normal”, and also recalls an exchange on a bus when she was around 12 after an elderly passenger asked her “How did you get here?” and asked if she had come “on the boat”.

Like Tia, she could “count how many people of colour there were” when she attended Cantonian High School, and recalls she suffered racist name-calling “constantly” in school, including the N-word.

She also spent time in Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School in Barry in her childhood, and also moved away to Birmingham in 2013, before returning to Cardiff.

“A lot of people are like, ‘It’s so multicultural, there’s no racism in Cardiff’. And I’m like, I’ve suffered the most racism in Cardiff than anywhere – even Barry.”

In fact, it was another incident in Caerau which spurred her decision to move away.

“My sons were three and five at the time, and a group of grown men in a car drove past and were hurling the N-word at them and loads of racist abuse,” she recalls.

“I was thinking of moving anyway, because I’ve never felt Welsh and I’ve never felt like this is my home and it’s sad because I was born here.

“And obviously I wanted my kids to be growing up in a multicultural society and it was the best thing I did do for them.”

Cherie Arlett admits she's never felt Welsh, despite being born in Cardiff

When she returned to Cardiff, she saw a “noticeable difference” in attitudes to race after the murder of George Floyd, with a rise in protests and organisations to support the black community.

She adds that the newly erected Betty Campbell statue is “amazing” and that Wales is “doing brilliantly” by being the first UK nation to make teaching Black, Asian and minority ethnic histories mandatory at school.

But she insists that we shouldn’t ignore the fact that racism is still a “big issue” in Cardiff and that Wales still has a “long way to go” compared to other parts of the UK.

“We are behind. Black history and black teachers – these are all visible and normal in parts of England,” she says.

“My partner’s 51 and he can’t even sit in his own house in Cardiff without hearing someone screaming ‘Get back to your own country’ outside his window, and this was the other month.”

Cherie believes the “next focus” needs to be getting more black people to senior roles, and making sure they are better “represented and seen”.

“Recently I won an award for best online retailer in Wales, but I was the only black women out of 15 categories to win an award. This is where things need to change,” she says.

“Why is it there were only three women of colour nominees in the whole of the award? There are way more people of colour in business in Wales, but it’s not reflected in any of our organisations and workplaces.”

Since coming back to Wales, Cherie has been fighting to connect the black community across Wales as a whole, not just the capital.

“A lot of the support and a lot of the organisations are based in Cardiff and are for the residents of Cardiff, but there are black people all over Wales and I worry about where their support is.

“People I’ve spoken to in the Valleys, they feel like they have to come to Cardiff if they want any support, if they want to be accepted

“We’re a country. We can’t say Wales is doing this and doing that when it’s actually at Cardiff.”

Gabriel Operanta, 74

Gabriel Operanta

Born in 1947, Gabriel says his early years were the “worst ones, where racism was pretty well rife”.

He says outside of Cardiff’s Docks, where there was a diverse range of cultures, “other parts of Cardiff were not so safe for black people”.

He was first singled out because of his skin colour when he was just young child.

“I think I fought every child on the street I lived on in Grangetown. There were always racial slurs.

“I can remember one time when I was about six years old, I had an altercation with some people.

“They stopped the car – there was about four people in the car. They wound down the window and somebody shouted out the N-word and then said, ‘Go home’, which I didn’t really understand, because I was home.”

He continues: “If I’d go into a shop or something – I must have only been about eight or nine – you’d get people who would sort of stroke your hair, like they were petting you. I found that quite strange.”

Born to a white mother from an area just outside Pontypridd and a Nigerian father – a seaman who had settled in the Docks – Gabriel also spent some time in the Valleys, which he says was “like the Wild West”.

“I used to have groups of people sometimes following me around – shouting out the N-word,” he recalls, and adds, laughing: “Sometimes I’d be fighting nine or 10 or them at the same time.”

He also explains that mixed-race relationships were uncommon and deemed taboo at the time, which led to a rift within his own family.

“There is more integration now than there used to be. My mother had to run away to marry my father, and her parents didn’t talk to her for years.

“Her father was a proper racist. I loved my grandmother, but I can’t even remember my grandfather. I think he died when I was very young.

“The irony of it all is, that when he died, the one who was with him the entire time and was holding his hand when he died was my father.”

Gabriel says his mother, who was from the Valleys, had to run away to marry his father, who was a Nigerian seaman

Gabriel himself got married to a girl from the Valleys in 1969 and says her family had “no problems” with him.

But in the decades that followed, he recalls moments when he felt “awful” at the discrimination he witnessed.

While watching a boxing match between a black man and a white man in a pub in Canton in the 90s, he recalls some of his acquaintances shouted, “Get the black bastard”, not knowing Gabriel was also there.

He also admits he felt unsafe as a black man around the police, especially after the Cardiff Five were wrongly arrested for the murder of Lynette White in Butetown.

“It makes me almost feel sick. I knew all the boys involved. One of them used to train with me in karate – Tony Paris,” he says.

“I knew right from the start that it was a put-up job. I knew it.

“Why they did it to black people – well, you can only come to one conclusion with that can’t you? Because there was a white person in the picture, who was seen on the road [where the murder happened].”

Today, he believes people overall are “quite accepting of the racial diversity in Cardiff” and admits he does not “see any real problems here”.

However, he adds: “I’m very aware that some people might disagree with me. I can only say my experience.”

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The pensioner thinks “it’s a good thing” that the statue of Betty Campbell has been erected, adding that there was “no way” a statue of a black person would have been put up when he was younger.

“Cardiff is full of black people, and yet there’s never been a black statue. It shows that the racism is there – it’s everywhere really in Britain.”

Harking back to calls to take down statues of slave owners and traders across many cities in the UK – notably the Edward Colston statue in Bristol last year – he continues: “Edward Colston did nothing for humanity. All he was was a rich guy, who made his money out of selling black people.

“So if you can put a statue of a person like that up, I’m sure you can put a statue of some black people up, who’ve done stuff for the community like Betty did”.

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