The terms “driving while black” and “shopping while black” were already fixtures in an ongoing discussion about race relations and stereotypes in the U.S. before a group of African-American women in Napa, California, helped coin a new term over the weekend. “Laughing while black” got 11 women kicked off the Napa Valley Wine Train Saturday for being too loud, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The women had organized the outing as a retreat for their book club, but said their ride went from joyful to “humiliating” as they were escorted off the train after other customers complained about their volume. A book club member and avid social media user shared details of the experience on Facebook and Twitter, spawning the viral hashtag #LaughingWhileBlack, where other users questioned whether the women would have been treated differently if they were not African-American.
— BrownBlaze (@brownblaze) August 24, 2015
— Tammy Mac (@TeeCLMcDee) August 24, 2015
“I’m really offended, to be quite honest,” book club member Lisa Johnson, 47, told the Chronicle. “I felt like it was a racist attack on us. I feel like we were being singled out.”
Napa Valley Wine Train spokeswoman Kira Devitt said the company “received complaints [about the women] 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 company has issued full refunds to the women, but Johnson said the group continues to seek a public apology. It began when Johnson and her book club, the Sisters on the Reading Edge, embarked on their annual trip through Northern California’s wine country.
The women, all seated near each other, were laughing and having a good time as they traveled the 18-mile picturesque trek from Napa to St. Helena, Johnson said. But in the middle of the trip a manager told the group “this isn’t going to work,” and asked them to “tone it down,” before deciding to eject the women.
“It was a bizarre thing for all of us,” Johnson told the Chronicle. The most humiliating part of the trip was the “walk of shame” past passengers on six other cars, toward the platform, where police officers were waiting.
Chief Jeff Hullquist of the Napa Valley Railroad Police Department said there “was no police action taken” against the women at the station. “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,” Hullquist told the Chronicle. “We keep them safe until someone can get them.”
The refund didn't satisfy the women, who felt unfairly singled out for enjoying themselves like other paying customers, Johnson said. “They knew they were out of place,” she said. The group “wants a public apology for the humiliations they caused to us as professional women.”