Did 'laughing while black' get women's book club kicked off train?

The mostly African-American members of a women's book club were kicked off the Napa Valley Wine Train last weekend because they were having too good a time: they called it talking and laughing; the train owner and some other passengers called it disruptive.

Eleven members of the Sistahs of the Reading Edge book club were escorted from the train after staff members twice asked them to be less boisterous, according to reports in both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

One of the club's members, Lisa Johnson, chronicled the journey on her Facebook page, saying at one point that another passenger told the group, "This is not a bar."

The club members, most of them wearing matching T-shirts, were escorted from the train and deposited in St. Helena, Calif., where police were waiting.

Johnson and her friends said the incident was racially motivated, and the hashtag #laughingwhileblack quickly gained currency on social media.

The Napa Valley Wine Train's response evolved a bit this week.

“It wasn't an issue of bias,” train spokesman Sam Singer told the L.A. Times. “It was an issue of noise.”

“No, it’s not racism," Singer told the N.Y. Times, "it’s acute insensitivity." He told the Times that staff would undergo additional training.

The company gave each of the women a full refund and, later, an apology. But Lisa Johnson said both were insufficient.

"That was the most humiliating and embarrassing thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she told the N.Y. Times. “To be paraded through all those cars, all those passengers looking at us, wondering what did we do that was so bad that we were being escorted off that train. All we were doing was laughing, having a good time, and trying to discuss our book.”

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Moderated comments:

JoeSesto: We have taken the train a couple of times and always considered the experience the same as a quiet dinner atop the St. Francis in San Francisco.  The views are equally impressive though the train's view is always changing.  It is mostly a library-quiet experience.  Some may think decorum is optional because it is just a train, but many couples on the Wine Train will pay over $300 for their meals, drinks and expected quiet experience. Comportment standards do not vary by race, but by circumstance. I'm sure any other race would have been shown the door after being warned.  Alcohol primarily effects judgment.

AnnoyedPassenger: I laugh a lot, too. However, there is a time and place for everything. An enclosed train car with other patrons is not the place. I once complained on a cruise ship when a loud boisterous group of young twentysomething's took over the adults-only pool area and hot tub, NOT black, but laughing, talking, and even using foul language so loudly it was distracting to the other patrons who specifically go to this area for a quiet, relaxing place to read or relax while enjoying the beauty of the sea. There are other places on a ship where groups can be as loud as they want and nobody would care. When the ship personnel were asked to address the group they declined. That line has lost my business.

I have been in other public places where loud groups have no sensitivity to the others around them even to the extent of dropping the f bomb numerous times when little children are present. It is not an issue of race. It is an issue of behavior, consideration for others, and manners. The book group should have heeded the first request to tone it down.

MarcusJ: I don’t think it’s racism to expect grown women to respect other patrons. I’m African-American,  I’ve been around other African-Americans who were loud, disrespectful to others and I felt it was inappropriate. I think the women should have toned down the noise if they were asked to do so. There’s a time and place for everything and we have to be mindful of that. Obviously, the train ride was an inappropriate place for loud behavior. Just my opinion.

FormerlyYoungandBoisterous: I think the train did the right thing. I am 66 years old and I’ve had many experiences being loud and boisterous over my lifetime. Been kicked out of a few places for being obnoxious and disruptive to others. Been a frat boy once, and that says it all. There is a time and place for that stuff and a Napa Valley train tour is not it. It is not racial; it is in good taste. There is equality here. The women were treated like anyone being disruptive. Inequality would be allowing them to compromise the rest of the guests and their enjoyment.

RR: I am very weary of the few black people who use their color to intimidate people.  These women were not escorted off because they were black.  They were being disrespectful of the other people on the train and, rightly, were asked to leave when they refused to show some respect and abide by the “rules” of respect.  They were asked more than once to bring their boisterous talk and laughter down.  More than once.  That does not sound like they were targeted because of their color, but because of their brazen refusal to do as asked.  Did they refuse because they are black?  I would suggest yes, most likely. No matter what color you are -- respect the rights of others and you don’t get thrown off the train.  How hard is that to understand?

CraigQuirolo: Laughing on a wine train and they get thrown off . . . for having fun on a wine-drinking car. Give me a break.

ShakingHeadWithDisgust:  The ladies were asked to disembark from the train not because they were black, but because they were noisy. They were asked on multiple occasions to lower their volume so as not to disrupt other passengers. Race isn't even a factor into that equation. Why do these women have to inject race into an issue where race is not involved? It was stated that she was embarrassed to be paraded through the cars when they were escorted to be disembarked. Perhaps if they did not want to be embarrassed, they should've been more considerate to other passengers and not be as loud as they were, especially when asked on multiple occasions. Whenever you get in trouble for YOUR OWN BEHAVIOR, you should be embarrassed. Don't blame race for others' disgust in your behavior. Blame only yourself.

Anonymous: I think many readers missed the point. Those women were judged before they even boarded the train and some of the other passengers were just LOOKING for a reason to complain.  What you have to consider: would there have been any complaints if those women were just as loud but white? I seriously doubt it.

#RudeIsNotAcceptable: If, as adult women, you have to be asked more than once to tone down your obnixious behavior, then you deserve to be booted from the train.  People do not need to hear your conversations. Request a private car where others can't hear you.   But to cry racism after you were asked to keep it down is just wrong. You should feel humiliated because you and your cohorts were acting a fool and got kicked off.  Hopefully you learned your lesson.

AnotherProfessionalWoman: Oh please, this is California. And while I know racism exists here, it's not like we're in Mississippi. Racism had nothing to do with this; bad behavior had everything to do with it. You should be embarrassed being walked off a train for being unrepentantly loud and obnoxious at your age. The other riders on that train paid for a classy ride, and shame on the train for caving to your racist threats and giving you compensation.

LouKaplan: Paraphrasing Sammy Davis Jr.: Real equality doesn't mean you can get into a place, it means you can get thrown out just like any other person. These people are using their race to basically say they set the standards and do not have to abide by the rules that govern other people or normative good taste. They are the racists.
Anonymous: What evidence do these ladies have that their treatment was racially motivated? I saw nothing presented in the article other than the fact they just happened to be black.  Sadly that appears to be all that is required nowadays.  From their own comments it appears that the group was 1) quite boisterous and 2) was asked to tone it down and chose not to. No mention of any groups of a different racial makeup behaving similarly that were not kicked off or that someone said anything to indicate they were targeted because of their race.  Minus such evidence I have to conclude that the group is using race as a conveinent excuse to distract attention from their own bad behavior. It is pure torture to be stuck next to a loud, obnoxious group in a close, shared space like that.  Such behavior in that setting is rude, inconsidereate and frankly selfish.  

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