I’m appalled that 11 Black women – including an 83-year-old grandmother — were abruptly kicked off the luxurious Wine Train in Napa Valley, California for what train officials insist was an egregious railway offense: Laughing too loud.
Imagine that? It’s the Wine Train — people drink wine, they laugh; it’s an activity designed for fun and enjoyment. But are the rules different for Black women?
“It was humiliating. I’m really offended to be quite honest,” said 47-year-old Lisa Johnson, who was among the 11 black women who were herded off the train and promptly met by railroad police. “I felt like it was a racist attack on us. I feel like we were being singled out.”
Johnson said members of her group, “Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club,” were targeted because they were simply “laughing while Black.”
She is probably right. There were so many ways Wine Train officials could have handled this situation, but forcing a group of Black women off the train, including an 83-year-old grandmother, is deplorable and just bad business.
What was supposed to be an enjoyable afternoon turned ugly for the women last Saturday two hours after they boarded the Wine Train. One white woman, according to Johnson, told the group they were annoying her and complained to train attendants.
“This is not a bar,” the woman said.
Wine train officials said the women were laughing too loud and were told three times to keep the noise down. Officials said the women were not drunk but ordered them off the train anyway citing a standing policy about excessive noise. Train officials then posted this message on the Wine Train Facebook page.
“Following verbal and physical abuse toward other guests and staff, it was necessary to get our police involved. Many groups come on board and celebrate. When those celebrations impact our guests, we do intervene.”
While witnesses said white guests on the train were also laughing and enjoying themselves during the excursion, Johnson called the incident a “walk of shame” after the train stopped at St. Helena and the Black women were greeted by Wine Train railroad police.
“They paraded us through 6 cars on display in front of the other guests to waiting police like we were criminals,” Johnson said in a Facebook post. “Then they made a written public statement on social media that we verbally and physically abused other guest and staff…one word. UNACCEPTABLE!”
The women were ushered off the train and transported back to the train station where they were given a full refund. So if the women clearly violated train policy, why would Wine Train officials give all the women a complete refund? And why did Wine Train officials apologize?
“Today we are again reaching out to the book club members,” Sam Singer, a Wine Train spokesman, told reporters. “We want to apologize to them about their experience.” Singer said he has been unable to reach the women to offer a formal apology.
Word of the incident has spread quickly on social media hashtag #laughingwhileblack with many people saying they will boycott the Wine Train. The company’s Yelp page has been flooded with negative reviews from other passengers who say they’ve either witnessed or experienced discriminatory attitudes and treatment. And an article on Slate.com reports on previous complaints about passenger behavior, none of which were thrown off the train.
One woman from Seattle posted her outrage over the incident after witnessing the situation on the train.
“I watched in disbelief as staff harassed a group of people who were merely drinking wine and laughing. I’d like to think it wasn’t a racially motivated act, but given the fact that other, non-Black guests were behaving in the same way and not removed, I can only conclude that it was discrimination,” Danielle S. posted.
It’s a shame that 11 Black women from a Antioch, California book club were subjected to what appears to be racial profiling on a wine-sipping train that promotes a wonderful three-hour tour.
“Take a trip into the luxurious American past and experience an unparalleled memory-making journey,” according to the Wine Train website.
For these sophisticated, book-reading women, I’m guessing they’ve experienced enough of the America’s past for one weekend.
What do you think?