By David Williams
Ashton Hewitt has thanked those who have supported his backing for the Black Lives Matter campaign and the revelations over his own experiences of racism in Wales.
The Dragons wing – who was called up to train with Wales during this season’s Six Nations – gave a revealing account of his encounters with police as a black rugby player.
His interview with the South Wales Argus and other media led to a huge reaction and also provoked debate with fellow former Dragons star Andrew Coombs, who accused protestors in London of violence towards the police.
In a tweet to those who backed his stance, Hewitt said: “Thanks for all of the feedback on the podcast/articles.
“Hopefully gave some insight into the seriousness of the issues faced by ethnic minorities daily. Any questions feel free to shout me.”
Hewitt, 25, spoke out after several days of protests in the United States spread to Europe and the UK following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota last week.
Assaulting officers who more than likely share the shame frustrations and fully support #AllLivesMattter is not correct. You know as well as I do, one blow to the head can cause death! You do not protest by physically striking others, that creates greater issues!
— Andrew Coombs (@Coombs_A) June 5, 2020
I imagine it’s easier to look at it that way if it’s never happened to you. Like I said I don’t condone it but I understand because of how I’ve felt in the past and what history shows. If you’re hash tagging all lives matter I’m not sure you’re really understanding the movement.
— Ashton Hewitt (@ashton_hewitt) June 5, 2020
“Not being afraid [to speak out] is massive and that’s something that I have learnt, and I’ve had to grow in confidence with throughout my career,” said Hewitt.
“There have been a lot of instances and situations where I have been accepting of a culture of racial banter, prejudice and stereotypes.
“I used to let certain things slide but now I am definitely more of the mindset to pull people up on it, and I have been pulling people up on stuff and having conversations with people.
“There is a lot of banter in a rugby environment from people who don’t understand the history behind some of the things that they joke about, how those things can impact people and make them feel uncomfortable.
“From my experiences there is a serious lack of education and knowledge around race, the issues and history that makes certain things offensive.
“It’s something that needs to be addressed and stamped out. I am guilty of letting it pass and allowing it in a lot of different environments, rugby being only one of them.”
Hewitt, who has been with the Dragons for six seasons, said he witnessed racist remarks as a youngster with Newport, but felt he lacked the power to intervene.
He also detailed being stopped, searched and sometimes followed by the police near his home.
In an illuminating interview with the Argus, he said: “When I was playing for Newport and was 17 years old, I was the only black player there and I wouldn’t have the confidence to call people out on stuff or simply offer myself to educate people.
“Now I am in the mindset where education is everything and I am worried that the reason some people lack knowledge on this topic is because they are worried about offending or asking the wrong question.
“There is still a level of personal responsibility for that education but I want to make it clear that the more people ask me, the more that I would feel a lot more positive and feel that change is being made.
“You can’t understand any racial issue today unless you understand the history and that’s something that this country fails with.
“There are a lot of people that think there is not an issue, and that shocks me. They think black people are kicking up a fuss over nothing and that society is fine.
“It’s a huge problem and my worry is that people think that because it’s not direct and aggressive racism like ‘you black so-and-so’, that there is no racism.
An article with Dragons wing Ashton Hewitt. Please read it.https://t.co/mhuC0FhuWT
— Chris Kirwan (@c_kirwan) June 5, 2020
“We have seen the consequences of police brutality and inequality in America but people fail to see what is happening every day in the UK.
“I have had conversations with a few of the boys and a lot of people from a different demographic to me and they are always shocked at my stories about how many times I have been stopped by the police.
“I had to experience racism in the valleys as a child and if it was somebody else, with a different personality, then they might have knocked rugby on the head because of that very issue.
“There is stuff that you [as a white man] wouldn’t even think about. I have been stopped and searched walking my dog, I’ve been followed to my front door all the way from the motorway.
“Have you ever been stopped and searched in the middle of the afternoon while walking the dog? Most white people that I speak to haven’t.
“Staying quiet just allows the situation to continue. People need to understand the struggles that black people go through daily.”