Imagine you and your friends are part of a book club, and are taking a wine train to Napa Valley. You all are having a great time meeting other guests and the overall experience. Everything’s going beautifully until you are asked to leave the train and are escorted off by policemen.
You and your friends – all Black, I might add – are escorted through six train cars full of passengers who do not look like you until you are greeted by more law enforcement when you get off. For what exactly? For laughing too loud, and maybe for being Black in the process.
What may just be a thoughtful scenario for you was a humiliating reality for “Sistahs on the Reading Edge,” a book club composed of 11 African-American women ranging from ages 39 to 85. According to train officials, its members were acting in a “rambunctious” and “obnoxious” manner.
The staff stated the women were asked to lower their noise level three times before the incident occurred. When they did not comply, the police were called and escorted the women off the train. However, another passenger had an alternative version of the story.
Danielle, another passenger aboard that day, wrote in a Yelp review:
“Definitely not an organization I would recommend or ever support again. 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. This business belongs in the ‘what is wrong with our country’ category. Steer clear if you would like to be part of the solution, rather than the problem of white supremacy and racism.”
Other guests also recalled other passengers laughing and taking photos with the group. So the question is, why was this group of women singlehandedly picked out when they were not the only ones exhibiting this “rambunctious” and “obnoxious” behavior?
Regardless of other passengers’ accounts, the women of “Sistahs on the Reading Edge” knew it was discrimination against them from the start. Although they were reimbursed and received an official apology from the company later – note that it was only issued once the Twitter hashtag “#LaughingWhileBlack” went viral – the ladies expressed that the incident was a defamation of character. Club member Lisa Johnson stated, “Laughing while black – that’s the only thing we were guilty of.”
So a question arises: What can people do while Black? Or, rather, what can you do while Black in public?
Laugh? A small giggle will have to suffice.
Taylor E. Roberts
Staff Writer – Features