There is a popular saying that conveys much to African-Americans, or any minority population for that matter, through its relative simplicity. That statement is quite simply, “there are different rules for different people.” Put simply, everyone is not treated the same in America. Frequently, this difference in treatment revolves around racial matters.
Considering this peculiar situation of being Black in a White land, I was not in the least bit surprised to hear that a book club composed almost exclusively of African-American women (11 African-American women and one White woman), traveling through the Napa Valley Wine country via train ran afoul of Whites for the simplest of reasons, laughing and talking too loudly; the raucous group of females were reportedly discussing the latest book club offering. Experience has taught me that it does not take much for African-Americans to offend Whites, oftentimes; our mere presence moves Whites well beyond their racial ‘tolerance threshold’.
Lisa Johnson, one of the women removed from the train as it reached its mid-point related that “it was humiliating…I felt like it was a racist attack on us. I feel like we were being singled out.”
Predictably, Kira Devitt, the spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Wine Train Company, issued the usual half-hearted apology and denied that the incident had anything to do with racial bias, discrimination, or prejudice. According to Devitt, her company had “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.”
What Whites such as Kira Devitt will never be able to comprehend is that their lackadaisical attempt to make these women ‘whole’ after this incident will invariably miss the mark as there is no way to heal the psychological and emotional trauma that such racial incidents have upon victims.
So the question facing not only these 11 African-American women, but also the race in general is a simple, yet piercing, one. Where do we go from here? It appears that in today’s climate, social media has usurped traditional modes of Black protest, most notably economic boycotts; the most assured path to capturing the attention of powerful Whites in America. We must remember that it was an economic boycott that caused the seemingly omnipotent White community of Montgomery, Alabama, to reconsider its policy of racial segregation on its public bus system.
During the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Era we had the economic boycott and political solidarity, today we have the hashtag.
So it stands to reason that there has been no discussion of an economic boycott of the Napa Valley Wine Train Company, rather there has been the creation of #LaughingWhileBlack. Although this social media hashtag will invariably publicize this incident to the masses, history teaches us that popularity is a poor excuse for political activism and economic efficiency. So in the end, there will be no recompense for these ladies.
They will join a lengthy list of aggrieved African-Americans who a reactionary African-American community rallied around. Unfortunately, the alluded to emotionalism invariably leaves African-Americans in the same position that we have historically been, as beggars pleading with Whites to ‘do the right thing’. And rest assured, as long as we operate from such a foolish position, there isn’t a hashtag capable of altering that fact.
By Damn Freeman