A black woman working as a Metro bus operator in Washington, DC was shamed on May 10, 2019, for eating her breakfast while in her Washington Metro Area Transit uniform on the train to her next assignment. Normally eating her breakfast at a stop where she picks up passengers before they board the bus, the metro operator was stuck on the train in rush hour traffic and, concerned about upholding the timeliness of the bus schedule she was entrusted with, decided to eat her breakfast on the train — violating a rule previously established by the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) that prohibited eating or drinking on Metro vehicles or in stations. Appalled by what she interpreted to be a violation of WMATA rules, Jordanian minority social media strategist and writer Natasha Tynes snapped a picture of the employee eating her breakfast and posted it to Twitter asking the WMATA to discipline their employee for what Tynes deemed her “unacceptable” behavior.
The Larger Context
While the WMATA employee will not be reprimanded for her actions due to a recent redaction of punishments for eating on WMATA vehicles, the embarrassment that the employee has undergone due to the publicization of Tynes’s tweet cannot be erased. In an email sent by the Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik on May 8, 2019, transit officers are told to “cease and desist from issuing criminal citations in the District of Columbia for fare evasion; eating; drinking; spitting, and playing musical instruments without headphones until further advised.” Regardless of the employee’s lack of culpability, Barry Hobson, a spokesperson for the Metro workers union and the chief of staff for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, communicated the employee’s humiliation over being publically blasted by Tynes on Twitter and described her frustration at her inability to enjoy Mother’s Day with her children as she had to spend her time responding to people asking her questions about Tynes’s Twitter post.
POC & The Black Distinction
Tynes soon got her comeuppance as the virality of her tweet resulted in an onslaught of criticism directed towards her invasion of the employee’s privacy, the risk she posed to the livelihood of a black woman by exposing a supposed rule violation to the woman’s employer and her contribution to the systematic policing of black women’s bodies. Many people responded with disgust towards Tynes, accusing her of being anti-black, as well as hypocritical, as Tynes has framed herself specifically as a minority writer. Several Twitter users posted tweets responding to the incident, remarking upon the distinction among black people within the larger category of people of color.
"People of color" like Natasha Tynes is the reason why I make it a point to directly name Black people within the spectrum, because there is anti-Blackness within people of color in totality.
POC solidarity is often upheld by Black people, but not maintained by others within.
— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) May 11, 2019
I am in residence, so not on Twitter as I often as I usually am. Just learned what Natasha Tynes -who is Jordanian-American- did. Anti-Black racism is shamefully all too common among non-Black people of colour. I would add classism to the list of bigotries that we must fight too.
— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) May 11, 2019
Natasha Tynes' apology which has zero detail abt accountability is another fucking reminder of the anti-Black sentiment among non-Black POC communities. NEVER assume your narrative is done or you're done learning. Until you practice uplifting Black women, you're not free.
— Lisa Factora-Borchers (@LFB27) May 10, 2019
The Natasha Tynes situation is a reminder that there are plenty of scumbags in minority communities that could give a shit about anyone but themselves. "Own voices" and "diversity" good enough to sell them books, but a hard-working black woman eating on a train is unforgivable?
— Angel Luis Colón (@GoshDarnMyLife) May 11, 2019
The comeuppance didn’t stop there as Tynes’s tweet has also resulted in the collapse of her book deal with Rare Bird Books distributors and their publishing subdivision, California Coldblood Books. After four years of working on her debut novel entitled, They Called Me Wyatt, which focuses on Tynes’s experience being a woman in the Middle East and was originally set to be published in June of 2019, Tynes’s book distributor and publisher have both decided to pull out of their book deal due to what they have mutually labeled unacceptable and racist behavior. Rare Birds released the following statement on the day of the incident:
A word from us on what happened this morning with Natasha Tynes in DC. pic.twitter.com/gJY4lZLFUQ
— Rare Bird (@rarebirdlit) May 11, 2019
The following day saw a similar statement released by California Coldblood Books in which they declared their end goal of terminating the novel’s pending publication.
— California Coldblood (@CalifColdblood) May 11, 2019
Tynes has since deleted her tweet and issued a public apology, however, she later deactivated her entire Twitter account thus erasing evidence of the apology. Tynes also removed her personal website from the Internet. Despite these conciliatory attempts, it doesn’t seem as though Tynes’s career will recover from her display of racism specifically targeted towards black people within the larger community of POC. Tynes also displayed a significant lack of understanding of the conditions metro workers operate within, having only 20 minutes to eat their meals and no clean spaces to eat them within. A Buzzfeed News reporter stated that according to the WMATA union, “operators have an average of 20 minutes to eat and get to their next access point to ensure buses and trains are on time,” “most operators do not have a sanitary place to have their meals due to rodents and insects in the system and a lack of break rooms at some stations.”