The hashtag #LaughingWhileBlack is ramping up momentum this week after a group of black women were given the boot from a Napa Valley wine train, kicked off for reportedly laughing too loud. Social media has given fierce attention to the incident, and many are calling for a boycott of the train for what is being perceived as a racist decision.
Writes NBC affiliate 5DFW.com on Aug. 24: “It was supposed to be a book club outing, a day of bonding, wine and fun for 11 black women riding the popular Napa Valley Wine Train. But the trip was unexpectedly cut short, they say, because they laughed too loudly.”
Eleven members of the Sistahs of the Reading Edge book club boarded the train, based out of McKinstry Street in Napa, California. The wine train’s website says the 18-mile excursion offers guests a “memorable experience that echoes the glory days of train travel, with fine dining service, multiple course meals, Napa Valley scenery and ultimate relaxation aboard exquisitely restored vintage rail cars.”
The women however say they were humiliated; they were forced to exit the train – with police officers waiting – after the train stopped at the St. Helena station. According to the women, they were made to do a “walk of shame” through half a dozen cars filled with white passengers. Among them was a grandmother in her 80s. Some were reportedly even applauding.
“It was humiliating. I’m really offended to be quite honest,” said book club member 47-year-old Lisa Johnson. “I felt like it was a racist attack on us. I feel like we were being singled out.” Johnson says they were admittedly “rambunctious,” but not “obnoxious or intoxicated.” Johnson says they were simply laughing, while being black, thus spurring the #LaughingWhileBlack hashtag.
The train’s owners however offered a different opinion. They say that the group was warned three times to please quiet down, because of multiple complaints received by others on the train who were trying to enjoy the ride.
Napa Valley Wine Train spokeswoman Kira Devitt said they “received complaints from several parties in the same car and after three attempts from staff, requesting that the group keep the noise to an acceptable level, they were removed from the train and offered transportation back to the station in Napa…The Napa Valley Wine Train does not enjoy removing guests from our trains, but takes these things very seriously in order to ensure the enjoyment and safety of all of our guests.”
Johnson says passengers did not appear to be disrupted. She said some of them even came over to talk to the group about the latest romance novel they are reading. Others asked them to take photos.
“The train is set up to be with your friends, to drink wine and have a good time,” Johnson said. “We were thinking, ‘Who are we offending?’” Johnson said a train “manager” told them to “tone it down,” and threatened to remove them from the train. “It was a bizarre thing for all of us,” she said, adding that they complied and tried to be quieter. She said the manager told them that the train “wasn’t a bar.”
“And we thought, um, yes it is,” Johnson said. “People were looking at us. To get escorted into the hands of waiting police officers. That’s the humiliating part.” Officers from the Napa Valley Railroad and St. Helena police departments were waiting for the group; no arrests were made however.
“When someone is removed from a train, they have to be dropped off at a station, and our policy is if someone is let off the train we’ll stand by,” commented Chief Jeff Hullquist of the Napa Valley Railroad Police Department. “We keep them safe until someone can get them.”
A later statement, posted to the train’s Facebook page, characterized the women as being “verbally and physically aggressive” toward the staff and other patrons. The post was quickly taken down however.
“Verbally and physically abusive toward other guests? That post was incorrect and inaccurate,” said Napa Valley Wine Train spokesman Sam Singer to WPTV.com. “It was made by a junior staffer and was immediately removed when someone was aware of what had occurred.”
Singer said the decision to remove the women was not about skin color, but about the fact they refused to tone down their loudness to an acceptable level.
“This is really an unfortunate incident where there was a group of people having a wonderful time with the book club and being very boisterous and there was a group of other people who wanted it to be more quiet,” said Singer.
The train’s Google reviews and Yelp page have since been inundated with comments – many of them tossing the train company one-star reviews and decrying the “racist” actions of the train’s staff. A sampling of the comments:
Please boycott this terribly racist business. The blatant discrimination is unacceptable and the silence from the owner of the business clearly demonstrates his not caring in the slightest. Despite having taken trips to NAPA in the past, myself, family, and friends will be boycotting this particular train and business in the future. – Michael P.
I will never support a business that mistreated a group of nice book club ladies for no good reason. On top of that there was an 80 years old grandma. That only shows how disgusting your service is. I will also let everyone I know not to support a business that discriminates. – Becky W.
Throw mamas off the train! So this is how you do business? Okay, in honor of being treated respectfully, like others around me, I shall keep my dollars in my pocket and AWAY from your establishment. – Loriann O.
What are your thoughts? Do you think these #LaughingWhileBlack women were kicked off for racist reasons?