Black History month is celebrated by black people mostly to look at black people’s lives in retrospect, celebrate successes and contributions, as well as, improve on areas that will help make the lives of blacks better in the UK.
It is against this background that Dan De’Ath, the first black Lord Mayor of Cardiff, decides to use this month to reflect on life and journey as a black man in a revered position in Wales.
The title Lord Mayor of Cardiff rightly suggests an elderly white Welsh male figure, but De’Ath has broken that jinx though it has been met with snide racist comments and misconceptions. He has taken it in his stride and performs his duties with pride.
“People conjure up in their mind a councillor as being white, middle aged, wearing a grey suit,” he says. “I don’t look like what they imagine a councillor looks like. Even now as mayor it still happens.”
The 40-year-old Mayor in an interview with Wales online reiterated the progress society has made with regards to prejudice, indicating that society is more open and accepting as compared to the 1960s.
“In the 50s and 60s it was part of the fabric of political debate, whereas today it’s quite the opposite. The problem today is it’s not just how we’re treated, but how society is structured,” the Mayor stated.
While growing up in Warwickshire, he encountered unpremeditated racial abuse and racism. But as Lord Mayor, and the first black one, he has often been mistaken as the “security guard or a waiter at official events.”
He adds that “people don’t do it consciously, it’s unconscious. I don’t think they are doing it because they are racist – it’s the ideas they have about society about different roles.”
“I think most non-white people to some degree will experience very small nuanced slights. I have been in Sainsbury’s and have seen the security guard eyeing me because I’m a tall, looming black man.”
Narrating an incidence, he adds that “when he is driven to an event and people immediately assume his white driver is the mayor,” Wales Online reports.
He was elected Labour councillor in 2012 and has since enjoyed his role as the 115th Lord Mayor since being given the position in May. De’Ath says Cardiff compared to other places in the UK is more welcoming to people of colour.
His mother is white, and his black father is from Antigua, stressing Cardiff is a relatively “good place to live as a non-white person.”
Speaking to his role in politics and being in a position of influence, he advised black and other ethnic minorities to get involved and be agents of change.
“It’s worth it, it’s important. We need you to come in and help make the change. I thoroughly enjoy it – I love being a councillor. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. You make a difference at the individual level and at the city level as well.”
What he also loves about his job is the opportunity he gets to interact with young minds in schools.
“I’m really pleased and proud to be the first black mayor of Cardiff,” he said.
“I really want to use the role to encourage other black people and from working class backgrounds to enter the public sphere. I find young people today are so funny, confident and articulate in a way kids weren’t, and I wasn’t when I was at school.”
Other black public officials have had different experiences being in similar position, but De’Ath says his is relatively easy and wants to use the Black History month as an opportunity to be candid about his experiences in public life.
“Compared to a lot of people I’ve had it very easy. We need to have a more honest conversation on a number of levels,” he suggested.