In New York, it's three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000; in Florida, up to five years imprisonment and a fine up to $5,000; in Texas, two to 20 years and a maximum fine of $10,000. (Everything is big in Texas, they always say.) And in the largest- and in this case, most important- state, California, it's prison up to five years plus a fine.
That is the maximum sentence for a fairly common crime, an assault of a felony nature. To Salon contributor Brittney Cooper, however, it may as well be the sentence for that crime most dreaded by white America. Laughing While Black. She writes
But this is the indignity of racism. It is not simply that these women were removed, but that they were humiliated, treated as criminal and then publicly maligned with false accusations. Why did the junior staff person perceive laughter, joy, and friendship as “verbal and physical abuse”? Why are Black women communing together enjoying themselves seen as an encroachment upon white people’s joy? Why is Black joy criminal?
She is speaking about the group ("Sistahs on the Reading Edge") of nine adult black women, one elderly black woman, and one white woman which was unceremoniously asked to leave a Napa Valley Wine Train after one or more white women on the trip complained about its apparently boisterous behavior. At a stop in St. Helena, Florida (as of a year ago, the end of the line).- where police were waiting by at request of the company- the women left the train, uneventfully, and later were given a refund.
"God is in the details," it is said, and details, alas, may be critical and elusive. We do know, however, that
Book club member Lisa Renee Johnson, an author from Antioch, Calif., admitted to KTVU that a manager on the train repeatedly told the women they were laughing and talking too loudly, but insisted "we didn't do anything wrong."
The women said that servers and bartenders on the train apologized, telling them previous groups had been more rambunctious without being asked to leave.
Johnson said the train company contributed to the situation by selling them seats that were scattered throughout the car, even after the members made clear they were traveling as a group. The seating arrangement made conversation more difficult, Johnson said.
"Noise is going to come along with that," admitted Johnson, "and laughter, because it's fun! It's wine and not just a glass of wine, it's free-flowing wine."
Johnson chronicled the episode via cellphone videos. On Facebook, Twitter and Yelp on Monday, defenders of the women posted videos of other, past noisy groups celebrating on the wine train, which offers food and wine to passengers as they roll to Napa County wineries in updated Pullman cars.
Spokesman Sam Singer of Napa Wine Valley Train Inc. explained "The book club clearly was fun-loving, boisterous and loud enough that it affected the experience of some of the passengers who were in the same car, who complained to staff." (He included an ambiguous apology, to which this video was reacting.)
Almost immediately afterward, however, the company's chief executive officer in a letter to the group apologized, claiming
Clearly, we knew in advance when we booked your party that you would be loud, fun-loving and boisterous—because you told us during the booking process that you wanted a place where your Club could enjoy each other's company. Somehow that vital information never made it to the appropriate channels and we failed to seat your group where you could enjoy yourself properly and alert our train’s staff that they should expect a particularly vibrant group.
The ABC piece was posted 13 hours, 40 minutes prior to the posting of Brittney Cooper's hit piece. Cooper noted the apology but neglected to mention the offer of free passes for 50 people for a future trip. The recipients of this reward are the women who were "treated as criminal," according to Cooper, who further asserted
When we refuse the script of social quietness, white people’s ears ring with derision. In those moments, whiteness asserts itself. It gets angry and loud. It complains. It passive aggressively deploys words like “respect,” “decorum,” “civility” and “courtesy.” It overestimates the slight and misrepresents the facts. White resentment precedes in an irrational manner. But it is not recognized as resentment. It is recognized asconcern, as fear, as the right to remain unbothered.
It's not only white people, it's now "whiteness." It's hard to determine what "whiteness" is, given that (fortunately) we are everywhere spared the odious term "blackness." Evidently, though, it's exhibited not by people because "it gets angry and complains." An instructor of Africana studies, Cooper envisions herself a psychologist, arguing "it passive aggressively deploys" such intolerable values as "respect, decorum, civility, and courtesy." This behavior is not demonstrated by individuals (or by any beings of a human nature) but is "white resentment."
When we refuse the script of social quietness, white people’s ears ring with derision, Cooper contends. Not the ears of people, or of some white people, but of "white people," who- apparently- are all the same. Not all stereotyping is inaccurate of course, but the burden is on the speaker to demonstrate that it is accurate. When followed by "In those moments, whiteness asserts itself," you can guess the argument is not proven, nor is a serious effort made to prove it.
Readers can decide what to read and what to believe at salon.com, as everywhere, and at Salon for free. However, Brittney Cooper is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University and in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama. Those students are paying to be taught- probably propagandized- by her, and for a hefty fee. These students, as the cliche goes, are our future, and it's a harrowing thought.
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