Is ‘laughing while Black’ another burden to bear?

Filed under COLUMNISTS, COMMENTARIES

ELIZABETH ANN THOMPSON
GUEST COMMENTARY

A group of 11 women, 10 of them African-American, were kicked off a Napa Valley wine train in California for being too loud. Lisa Johnson and her fellow book club members chronicled the incident on social media. It went viral.

The management of the wine train subsequently apologized, then offered a private dining car to the club and 39 of its members’ friends. (Management claimed it kicks White folks off at least once a month for being noisy.)

Academic researchers have analyzed the way White people react to people of color in so-called “White spaces” and how Blacks are “policed” by other patrons and by management in restaurants, theaters and other public places. Black and Brown children and adults are more likely to be shushed, stared at or kicked out of places where White people perceive that they do not fit.

After hearing about the recent incident, Norma Ruiz, a Latina, went public with her experience on the same Napa train. She described how she was asked by another patron to quiet down. Her group – all Latinas – moved to a different area of the train and was then warned by staff, though not booted off.

Ruiz had booked her birthday celebration on the train because when she previously rode on it, 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 when performed by 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.”

Let’s hope all the attention 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.

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