The members of a mostly black women’s book club say the staff of the Napa Valley wine train kicked them off because of their race, and not because they were being loud, rude and obnoxious.
Today’s no-fault society is challenging and frustrating for decent people. When I say “decent people,” I’m talking about a majority of folks — hard working, honest, respectful, trustworthy, humble, charitable, ethical and accountable. You know who you are, and your skin color has nothing to do with this.
Decent people all too frequently, find themselves in uncomfortable situations because of others’ boorish behavior. Recently, my husband and I went out for dinner on my birthday to a nice Sacramento restaurant. Halfway into our dinner, a group of eight was seated next to us. They all were dressed as if they had just come from a softball tournament – rumpled, dirty athletic clothing (in a nice restaurant). They were so loud, my husband and I could not hear one another. Several of the group were up and down numerous times, bumping my chair each time, with no “excuse me” offered.
Another time, also in a high-end Sacramento restaurant owned by a famous chef, my husband and I were treating my parents to an anniversary celebration. Another large table was seated nearby. Most of folks at their table were drunk. And loud. And boisterous. And offensive, using foul language, and making rude comments about other patrons in the restaurant. And they treated the restaurant staff rudely. But the restaurant owner would not ask them to quiet down, even when several other regular patrons of the restaurant complained. So my husband stepped up, and ended up taking it outside with the loudest drunk at the table. They ruined everyone else’s dinner at the restaurant that night.
Which brings me to the incident this week on the Napa Valley Wine Train. The Napa Valley Wine Train offers a “three-hour journey through world famous vineyards: wine tours, wine tasting & great dining.” I’ve been on the train a couple of times. A group of 11 women from their book club were on the train on Saturday. They admit that they were laughing and talking with one another as they enjoyed their wine. The women say they were just “laughing while black,”the Sacramento Bee reported – whatever that means.
At one point, a fellow passenger told the ladies ‘this isn’t a bar,’ while a train manager said they needed to quiet down. Another woman on the same train told the Sacramento Bee that the women were very loud and obnoxious, and that the train staff were appropriate.
Nevertheless, when the women wouldn’t quiet down, even after requests from passengers and train staff, the Napa Valley Wine Train staff had them expelled from the train. Predictably, the group of women claimed they were tossed off the train because of their race – not their behavior. “We still feel this is about race. We were singled out,” Lisa Renee Johnson told KTVU.
I’m sure most of the women believe this. Most of society has been conditioned to think that everything adverse in life is not one’s fault, and is only a result of race, ethnicity, gender or some other special status.
Just once I’d like to see the staff at a restaurant do this. “It would be nice if public places had a decibel rating system so I can avoid going anywhere where blabbermouths are allowed to ruin everyone else’s experience,” a SacBee commenter wrote. “Bad behavior is bad behavior regardless of genetic background,” another Bee commenter said. “The Bee and the book club have tried to bring ‘race’ into the argument which is anthropologically incorrect.”
“In a written statement released Tuesday morning, CEO Tony Giaccio said unequivocally that his staff should not have kicked off the club’s 11 female members on Saturday,” Inside Bay Area reported. “The Napa Valley Wine Train was 100 percent wrong in its handling of this issue,” Giaccio said. “We accept full responsibility for our failures and for the chain of events that led to this regrettable treatment of our guests.”
And apparently now the wine train staff will take cultural diversity training classes. But what if this was a large bachelorette group? Or a team of female volleyball players? What gives a group of black women the right to charge “racism?”
The issue here is really about grace and composure – they exhibited none. They were asked numerous times to quiet down, and instead ignored the requests. No class, no grace. “Black women partying almost always involves a lot of yelling and ear-piercing, screaming laughter,” another commenter wrote. “These women should own up to the way they treated the other customers.”
As I said, I’ve been on the train a couple of times. It’s not a noisy restaurant or party train. And anywhere you go out to eat, if a member of the staff asks your group to quiet down, that’s not exactly secret code for “you’re being too loud and bothering everyone else.” And it’s not racism.
While #Laughingwhileblack may be a funny diversionary attempt to handle public shame, equating this publicly embarrassing moment with real institutionalized racism is way out of line, and a lousy excuse for obnoxious public behavior. Frankly, had any of the women exhibited a little shame, they probably would have quieted down and still had a good time.
Their reaction is just sad evidence of serious problems in society – that because this group of women refused to stop behaving improperly, they think they can accuse others of even worse behavior. Instead of seeing race in every experience, practicing consideration for other people goes a long way to making all experiences more pleasant.
If these women had merely chosen to be considerate of the other Napa Valley Wine Train patrons, this would not have happened and everyone’s dignity would still be in tact.