Race row | Rastafarian soldier refused entry to barracks by guard who didn't believe he was in the Army

Rastafarian soldier refused entry to barracks by guard who didn't believe he was in the Army

A Rastafarian soldier in the British Army has beaten the Ministry of Defence at an employment tribunal after guards at his barracks refused to believe he was a soldier himself.

Dwight Pile-Grey was one of the first Rastafarian guardsmen in the armed forces, but his career came to an end after a row at a guardroom, in which a white guard didn't believe he was a fellow serviceman.

He was then accused of "playing the race card" when he challenged the soldier on his wrong assumption.

Mr Pile-Grey took the case to the employment tribunal appeal system, citing claims of racial discrimination and harassment, and has emerged victorious.

The MoD said it did not tolerate abuse, bullying or discrimination, but legal aids for Mr Pile-Grey said the Army had “refused to listen or engage” with him when he raised concerns about racism.

The case

The incident occurred in 2021 when Mr Pile-Grey, who was reportedly the first Rastafarian soldier to be allowed to wear his hair in locks when he enlisted in 2005, had an argument with two white soldiers at the guardroom to his base in Wellington Barracks, London.

He was wearing civilian clothes as he was at the barracks only for a medical appointment. He also had his hair locks on display, according to the tribunal.

He had stepped outside to make a phone call but accidentally left his military ID indoors.

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When trying to re-enter, Mr Pile-Grey said the lance corporal on duty was "disbelieving that I could be a soldier - he actually stuck his head back into the guard room and said 'this gentleman thinks he's left his ID inside'", the BBC reported.

He went on: "I was absolutely treated differently because of my appearance.

"I've been doing this a long time and I understand when there is a racial element to an interaction."

He was eventually allowed back into the barracks after another soldier recognised him.

He then went back to the guardsman with his uniform to prove his position, and to discuss with him how to handle such situations more professionally in future.

It was at this point, Mr Pile-Grey stated to the BBC, that the lance corporal accused him "of playing the race card", at which point a more senior soldier, a white staff sergeant, got involved.

The senior sergeant reportedly told Mr Pile-Grey that, if he was "going to make it into a race thing”, then he wasn't interested.

A “completely flabbergasted” Mr Pile-Grey admitted to losing his temper following this interaction and, despite him being victimised, was later told HE would be facing disciplinary action.

"I didn't feel that I could continue in an organisation that so disregarded my feelings and my welfare, and actively sought to make me a bad person” the BBC reported.

Mr Pile-Grey made a formal complaint, which was rejected, but he subsequently lodged a tribunal appeal.

The Ministry of Defence does not comment on individual cases but said it does not tolerate abuse, bullying or discrimination of any kind.

However, speaking after the decision, Sandeep Kaur, Race Equity Policy Advisor at the Centre for Military Justice, which supported Mr Pile-Grey's case, said: “At every single stage, the Army could have dealt with this situation differently but instead they doubled down. The Army refused to listen to or engage with Dwight on the issues of racial discrimination.

“From the initial incident, the response of the chain of command, the decision to discipline Dwight, the appalling service complaints process that treated him with such contempt, to the adversarial approach taken by Army during the litigation – at every stage the Army got it badly wrong.”

The law

The Equality Act 2010 mandates that no one should be discriminated against because of their race, but there is far more beyond legal parameters that HR must consider when it comes to discrimination and bias in the workplace.

The takeaways for HR

It would be all too easy to assume that this matter is one only the British Army is dealing with, for the situation is still one which provides important pointers for educating employees about the impact of racial discrimination, unconscious bias, and the language they use in the workplace.

Despite an increase in conversations around racism, research shows that employees are still not comfortable having discussions around race at work. In 2021, the average comfort level was only 59/100 - a number that barely changed since 2018.

Perceptions of racism in the workplace also barely changed between 2018 and 2021. Last year, 88% of employees believed racism existed in their workplace, only rising by 2% from 2018 (86%).

The lack of progress becomes more concerning, however, when we look at the number of respondents that see racism as an issue. Three quarters (75%) of employees considered racism to be a problem in 2021 - again, a minor shift from 73% in 2018.

“We’ve not seen enough change since our previous research in 2018, despite the global conversations that have taken place since 2020. We are still as wary, if not apprehensive, about conversations around race as we ever were,” said Binna Kandola, OBE, Business Psychologist and Co-Founder, Pearn Kandola.

“If we are to make progress on race, it will be achieved by discussion. It’s time for us all to take a good, hard look at how we perceive racism at work, as well as inclusion as a whole, to ensure we are able to talk to one another in an environment of mutual respect.”

As with discussions around racism, more needs to be done when it comes to taking action against racism at work. Worryingly, half of respondents reported that their organisation was not doing anything to promote racial equality in the workplace in 2021.

This lack of action is evident in the way employees respond to racism in the workplace. While 52% witnessed someone being racist in work last year, over a quarter (28%) took no action, with the most cited action being “I feared the consequences”. In addition, almost a third (31%) of white respondents selected “It wasn’t my business” as a reason for not taking action - rising by nearly 20% since 2018.

Kandola commented: “The fear of getting it wrong is hindering the fight against racism. We’re still seeing concerns in the workplace around how to challenge racist behaviour constructively and how colleagues will respond if challenged. Despite everything that has happened in the world over the past two years, we have a long way to go in making race a topic that is able to be discussed openly and empathetically.”

Of the employees that said their organisation was actively promoting racial equality, education was the most frequently cited action.

Educational activities included: workshops, seminars and talks, and learning, training and development courses. Championing equality in the workplace, culture and communication, and changing internal policies and practices were also underlined as actions being rolled out in the workplace to promote racial equality.

“Education is a good place to start, but for organisations to create truly inclusive workplaces, we need to listen to the experiences of employees and implement actionable solutions,” said Kandola.

“This can include: recognising different experiences between racial groups, as well as differences within racial groups; skill development in creating environments of psychological safety; and having a clear dignity and respect at work policy. Ultimately, challenging racism is everyone’s business.”

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