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By Janelle Griffith
Author Natasha Tynes sparked outrage on social media after she tweeted a photo of a black Metro employee eating on the train and reported the woman to officials. Now, Tynes may lose her book deal.
Tynes, a writer and World Bank employee in Washington, tweeted a photo Friday morning of a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority employee in uniform eating on one of the service’s trains.
“When you’re on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train,” Tynes wrote in the tweet, which she has since deleted. “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.'”
Transit officials responded to her tweet within an hour and thanked her for “catching” the employee eating and “helping” to “make sure all Metro employees are held accountable.”
The response said: “Can you confirm the time you were on the train, the direction you were headed and what line you were on?”
Tynes provided those details and added: “Thank you for responding. Appreciate it.”
Eating, drinking, smoking and littering is banned on Metro buses or trains and in stations.
But the backlash began immediately. University of New Hampshire professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein commented: “Eating while Black.”
“That’s literally someone’s life. That’s their job you’re messing with,” Prescod-Weinstein said in a tweet. “She was eating. Trying to live. She was commuting.”
Writer Roxane Gay replied to Tynes’ tweet, “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. What on earth? For eating on the train?”
Tynes issued an apology amid the uproar.
“I apologize for a tweet I posted earlier today, which I have since deleted,” she wrote on Twitter. “I am truly sorry.”
By early Saturday morning, she had also set her Twitter account to private. As of Sunday, the account had been deactivated.
Journalist Yashar Ali called on Tynes to explain her actions.
“Natasha, what you did was so horrible you need to explain why you did it in paragraphs/pages,” he wrote. “Not bullet points and certainly not a tweet.”
The incident inspired the hashtag #EatingWhileBlack.
Many social media users accused Tynes of participating in the type of racism that has involved black people getting reported to police or confronted for doing every day things such as banking and gardening.
Tynes, who is Jordanian American and has described herself as a “minority writer,” did not immediately return NBC News’ request for comment.
Rare Birds Books, a publishing house that was set to distribute Tynes’s upcoming novel, “They Called Me Wyatt,” said it has since decided not to do so.
The company said in a statement Friday that it had learned that the author “did something truly horrible today in tweeting a picture of a metro worker eating her breakfast on the train” and “drawing attention to her employer.”
“Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies,” it said. “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.”
The company also urged Tynes’s publisher, California Coldblood, to cut ties with her.
California Coldblood said in a statement Friday 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. “As for the book’s publication, we are working with our distributor to take appropriate next steps.”
On Saturday afternoon, the publisher announced it will postpone the book’s publication date, “while we further discuss appropriate next steps to officially cancel” it.
Some have expressed support for Tynes’s actions. Unsuck DC Metro, a Metro watchdog Twitter account, reposted the photo of the Metro employee a number of times after Tynes deleted her tweet.
Barry Hobson, the chief of staff for the Metro workers union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, said in a statement Saturday the Metro employee was taking her meal break while headed to her next assignment.
The statement noted that operators have an average of “20 minutes to consume a meal and get to their next access point to ensure all buses and trains are on time, safe, and ready to serve the riding public.”
In the same statement, Local Union President Raymond Jackson said, “Let’s redirect the energy thrown at this operator toward Metro for not providing more than 20 minutes to take a meal break and a clean eating area for every employee of Metro.”