Did you hear about the women’s book club members who were ejected from a wine train this weekend?
Eleven members of a San Francisco Bay area book club were enjoying a little R&R on the Napa Valley Wine Train when they were escorted off of the train and greeted by awaiting police officers, after fellow passengers complained that the book club guests were disruptive. Rail riders criticized the women for being too loud. On-board management responded to the complaints by parading the women through six rail cars on the way to disembarkation. The whole incident set off a social media firestorm using the hashtag #laughingwhileblack.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt that the women in the book club might have been so relaxed that they raised their voices. They might have laughed so heartily that they drew attention from the other travelers. Something might have been really funny and maybe they just couldn’t hold it in. They probably laughed out loud, literally.
But when did black women’s voices become so disruptive?
The implications of women’s vocal volume was explored in an article by the Wall Street Journal that evaluated the voices of 10 women leaders. The study surmised that, “Women leaders stand out on…‘vocal energy,’ or variations in loudness…An energetic voice comes across to listeners as authentic.” Was their hearty laughter viewed as self-affirmed and confident? As superior? As so authentic that it bordered on indigenous? Untainted? De-programmed?
Were the other guests actually afraid of the sound of the women’s voices? Or were they afraid that the sound would form words? And the words would form discourse? And the discourse would frame a new narrative that articulated the truth of black women’s experiences? I suspect that the other riders were not bothered by the volume of the women’s voices but were intimidated by the potential in their collective conversation.
I suspect that the other riders were afraid of a shifting power differential. In that very moment, they became keenly aware of the self-governing, non-conforming (read FREE) state of the women in the book club and thought it better to remove them than to confront their inability to control them.
I suspect that a literate, cultured, self-governing group of black women who could afford to pay the same price to ride the same train as their accusers was socially disruptive.