Photo by Skeeze.
The phenomenon of #DrivingWhileBlack has long been documented. The latest social media firestorm chronicles #LaughingWhileBlack.
A group of 11 women belonging to a book club, 10 of whom were African-American, were kicked off a Napa Valley wine train in California for being too loud. Lisa Johnson and her fellow club members chronicled the incident on social media, and it went viral. The management subsequently apologized and offered to make amends by offering a private dining car to the club and 39 more friends. (Management also claims it kicks white folks off the train at least once a month for being noisy.)
Yale professor Elijah Anderson and Berkeley professor Nikki Jones have analyzed the way white people react to people of color in so-called “white spaces,” and how we are “policed” by other patrons, as well as by management, in restaurants, theaters and other public places. Black and brown children and adults alike are more likely to be shushed, stared at or kicked out of places where white people perceive that we do not fit in.
Norma Ruiz, a Latina, went public with her experience on the same Napa train that ejected the book club after hearing about #LaughingWhileBlack. She described how she was asked by another patron to quiet down. Her group of all Latinas moved to a different area of the train and was then warned by staff, though not booted out. Ruiz had booked her birthday celebration on the train because when she rode it on a previous occasion, she saw a group of white women being boisterous and having fun.
As a society, we need to come to grips with the way people of color are judged and punished for behavior that is seen as harmless in white people. This phenomenon is really about black and brown people having the nerve to make ourselves visible when we are still living in an era of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” It’s OK to be a person of color as long as you are not noticeable.
Let’s hope all the attention to the #LaughingWhileBlack raises public consciousness, lifts the burden of public opprobrium and allows black and brown people to cut loose and have fun.
Elizabeth Ann Thompson is a freelance writer in Oakland, Calif. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright Elizabeth Ann Thompson