Group of mostly black women forced off Napa Valley wine train claims racial bias – cleveland.com

Members of a book club consisting of mostly black women are arguing they were victims of racial bias after they recently were kicked off a wine train in Napa Valley, California, for being too loud.

The Sistahs on the Reading Edge book club is considering legal action after its 11 members, 10 of whom are black, were ordered off the Napa Valley Wine Train on Saturday during the middle of its trip, according to the Associated Press.

The New York Times reports the group of women twice were told to lower their voices during the three-hour tour of wineries and vineyards in Northern California. A staff member told them after the second warning they would be removed from the train if they didn’t quiet down, the Times reports.

At the next stop, the women were escorted off the train and were met by police, reports say. The women, one of whom is 83 years old, were not taken into custory or charged, and a spokesman for St. Helena, Calif., police said it’s the first time she can recall the wine train asking for police assistance. 

Lisa Renee Johnson, the book club’s leader, tells the San Jose Mercury News that the train’s maitre d’hotel made the women walk through six train cars before exiting.

“We obliged, but that was the most humiliating and embarrassing thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Johnson tells the 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.”

The women were given taxi rides back to the train station, and they were given full refunds totaling $655, according to the Mercury News.

Johnson documented the trip and confrontation on her Facebook account, and the incident has sparked a debate on Twitter under the hashtag #laughingwhileblack.

A spokesman for the wine train, Sam Singer, told the media race was not a factor but did say the incident could have been handled better by the train’s staff. The train company’s president has offered an apology to the group, Singer tells the Mercury News.

“The president wants to offer apologies to the book club members for their poor experience on the wine train this weekend,” Singer said. “And to listen to their concerns and complaints, and to assure them that this was not an issue of bias but an issue of noise.” 

Singer tells the Times that passengers are removed from the train about once per month and said the book club members were “disrupting the experience of other passengers.” Several passengers reportedly complained about noise from the group, but Johnson claimed other groups also were being noisy and were not told to quiet down.

“We were singled out from the beginning,” she tells the Mercury News. “One person said, ‘This is not a bar.’ I said, ‘Yes, it is.’ When you sell wine, there’s an expectation that people will enjoy themselves.”

The company is reviewing the incident.

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