#LaughingWhileBlack: Napa Valley Wine Train Controversy Erupts on Social Media

Lisa Renee Johnson/ Facebook
Lisa Renee Johnson/Facebook

Lisa Johnson, along with ten other African-American women are at the center of a social media firestorm.They were escorted off the Napa Valley Wine Train Saturday, and into police custody, after management said they “received complaints” about too much noise.

“It was humiliating. I’m really offended to be quite honest,” Lisa Johnson, 47, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to reports, the eleven women, whose ages range from 40 to 83, are members of a book club called Sisters on the Reading Edge. About an hour after starting the Napa Valley Wine Train tour, a manager had warned the group of women to lower their voices because there had been noise complaints.

Johnson told reporters that she and her group were laughing, ordering wine, and having a good time riding through California’s famous vineyards and wineries just like everyone else on the train.

After the first warning was apparently unheeded, the train manager returned and said, “This isn’t going to work.”

“It was a bizarre thing for all of us,” Johnson said.

According to the paper, the women were approached by a manager and escorted off the train at the St. Helena station, where they were met by officers of the St. Helena Police Department.

“People were looking at us,” Johnson said. “To get escorted into the hands of waiting police officers. That’s the humiliating part.”

Napa Valley Wine Train “received complaints 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,” said spokeswoman Kira Devitt in a statement.

“I felt like it was a racist attack on us. I feel like we were being singled out,” Johnson said.

“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. We keep them safe until someone can get them,” said Chief Jeff Hullquist of the Napa Valley Railroad Police Department said.

By Monday, the controversy had fueled fierce social media attention and the hashtag #LaughingWhileBlack was trending on Facebook and Twitter.

The company’s online reviews are already tanking, as angry citizens are posting their displeasure. And it didn’t take long before calls to boycott The Napa Valley Wine Train came flying in.

The Napa Valley Wine Train attempted to reconcile and rectify things after forcing the women off the train. Johnson and her group were offered a refund.

“They knew they were out of place,” Johnson said, adding that the only thing she want is a “public apology for the humiliations they caused to us as professional women.”