The Slatest

D.C. Author May Lose Book Deal After Reporting a Black Metro Employee for Eating on the Train

Commuters wait for a Metro train to stop.
Commuters wait for a Metro train at the L’Enfant Plaza station in Washington, DC, on May 24, 2016.
Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

An author based out of Washington is now facing the prospect of losing her book deal after sparking an intense wave of anger Friday when she tweeted out a photo of a black Metro employee eating her breakfast.

“When you’re on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train,” Natasha Tynes, who is also a World Bank employee, tweeted out at 9 a.m. on Friday. “I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable. Hope @wmata responds. When I asked the employee about this, her response was, ‘worry about yourself.”

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority account, tagged in Tynes’ tweet, responded within an hour. “Good morning Natasha. Thank you for catching this and helping us to make sure all Metro employees are held accountable. Can you confirm the time you were on the train, the direction you were headed and what line you were on?”

Tynes replied with the time and location. “Thank you for responding,” she added. “Appreciate it.”

The anger on social media came immediately. “Eating while Black,” the University of New Hampshire professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein commented. “That’s literally someone’s life. That’s their job you’re messing with.” The writer Roxane Gay replied to Tynes’ tweet, which has since been deleted. “We all complain on social media but you… don’t identify the person you’re complaining about, in a photo no less, and try to get them fired,” she wrote. “What on earth?” Others jumped in to warn Metro against taking action against the employee. Metro does ban smoking, drinking, and eating on the trains.

And still others went to the Goodreads page for Tynes’ upcoming novel, They Called Me Wyatt, to give it a one-star rating. “I didn’t actually read the book” one user wrote. “I just came here to let any potential buyers know that Natasha Tynes, the author, attempted to have a black woman fired from her job….” Another wrote, “worry about yourself snitch.”

Many accused Tynes of participating in the kind of racism that has compelled a number of people—mostly white—to report black people for napping, canvassing, babysitting, grilling, mowing, staying in an Airbnb, and hanging out in a Starbucks. Tynes, who is Jordanian-American and has described herself as a “minority writer,” has not addressed the race elements of the criticism, but by Friday afternoon she had tweeted out a short apology. “I apologize for a tweet I posted earlier today, which I have since deleted,” she wrote on Twitter. “I am truly sorry.”

Her critics on Twitter were not appeased. “Natasha, what you did was so horrible you need to explain why you did it in paragraphs/pages,” the journalist Yashar Ali wrote. “Not bullet points and certainly not a tweet.”

The writer Nichole Perkins also suggested Tynes’ apology didn’t suggest she understood why people were upset. “Do you understand that you wanted her disciplined for not catering to your demands?” she wrote. “Some WOC solidarity you got there.”

Rare Birds Books, the publishing house that was set to distribute Tynes’s upcoming novel, announced by the evening that it had decided not to do so after all. “Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies,” the company wrote in a statement. “We think this is unacceptable and have no desire to be involved with anyone who thinks it’s acceptable to jeopardize a person’s safety and employment in this way. We are currently taking appropriate actions to cancel Ms. Tynes’ novel They Call Me Wyatt, within our distribution network, and are strongly urging Tynes’ publisher, California Coldblood, to consider other appropriate actions.”

California Coldblood also said in a statement it was aware of the incident. “We do not condone her actions and hope Natasha learns from this experience that black women feel the effects of systemic racism the most and that we all have to be allies, not oppressors,” the company said in a statement. “As for the book’s publication, we are working with our distributor to take appropriate next steps.”

It remains unclear if the employee in the photo has faced any disciplinary actions from Metro.