Lisa Johnson was one of the 11 Black women that were kicked off the Napa Wine Train. Johnson and a group of black women are part of “Sistahs on the Reading Edge,” a book club from Antioch, California. After a social media account of the incident went viral with the hashtag #LaughingWhileBlack, the Yelp reviews of the train tanked, as people wrote in sharing their experiences and saying they would no longer support the company, and other saying similar behavior hadn’t resulted in their being removed from the train.
The Napa Wine Train’s CEO, Tony Giaccio apologized and offered to host the group and more of their friends as his personal guests, but both the wording of the apology and the way it was transmitted was less than sincere.
“They reached out to us privately,” says Johnson. “They gave a written statement. During the conversation, he ended up saying that this situation traumatized their staff and how they were portrayed in the media. Something that they were not. And here you are supposed to listening to our concerns and apologizing to us, but somehow its transitioned to how its traumatizing to you and your staff. That’s exactly the same thing that you did to us. The apology really feels unauthentic.
They are in this big PR spin thing….we think he’s being coached. The fact that they invited us back on the train to be as loud as we would like to be so that’s really insensitive as well…” Johnson said. Other groups, including a Latino group has had similar experiences. “There’s so many who have contacted us who have had similar treatment on the train,” says Johnson. “I’m so excited that our story has gained such traction so that we could bring light to the situation so that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Johnson says the book club goes to the Napa Valley every years and has taken previous trips through the region by car without incident. Before a complaint was registered about them, the group was laughing and enjoying a good time. Passengers came by, admiring their matching T-shirts, but a maitre’d on the train approached them a second time to say they were too loud and that they’d be put off the train if they didn’t stop…laughing. Johnson says a woman in their car, apparently the origin of the complaint then told them “This is not a bar.”
“Four of us don’t drink,” says Johnson. “We’re barely had two drinks. We were only 45 minutes into the ride before they told us we’d have to leave.”
The train goes from Napa to St. Helena and then it turns around and goes back. The women were put off the train at Napa. Initially, when they were asked how they would be returned to their vehicles, a Napa Wine Train representative told them that it was a ‘customer service’ issue. They were then told that they would be escorted off the train by police.
Afterwards, the company released a statement accusing the women of verbal and physical abuse that they say was completely erroneous. The company retracted their statement. Johnson, already recording the group’s trip, recorded portions of the incident.
“I was trying to articulate what was happening to us. We can’t wear hoodies, we can’t laugh, we can’t run and now we can’t laugh,” Johnson says. “I think these are trigger words that people are using to describe African-Americans today. If the police hadn’t been so respectful, it could turn into something else. Somebody could be dead,” she says.
The group has retained a civil rights lawyer to represent them.
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Lisa Johnson Relives Being Kicked Off Napa Wine Train, Talks #LaughingWhileBlack was originally published on blackamericaweb.com