Why the Montgomery Riverfront Uprising is making Black people so damn happy

OPINION: Black people came to the defense of a Black man being beaten by a white mob. What's not to like?

Montgomery riverboat brawl, Alabama
Dameion Pickett (Screenshot WVTM 13 News via YouTube)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The joy that Black people across the country are feeling over the Montgomery Riverfront Uprising, aka the Alabama Sweet Tea Party, is filling my soul. We are celebrating this beatdown like we all just got reparations, and I am so here for it. I’m so happy that I want to drill down on what exactly is making us so happy at this moment. Let’s explore.

For one thing, we see the sense of collective responsibility in action. In these videos, we see Black people having one another’s backs. We see brotherhood and sisterhood. We see the vibe of “No, y’all ain’t piling on my brother. We fight back.” Black people showed up in droves to defend our brother, and it was heartwarming to see us show up for us like that. It gives us strength to know that maybe one day if some white boys jump you, the cavalry will come running to save you, too. Because whatever power we have in this country comes from us standing together. 

The video also gives us all a sense of catharsis. We’ve seen so many viral videos of Black people getting beaten up or killed. Here’s one where things went the way they would if we were writing the script. After white people tried to impose their white supremacy on a Black dock worker, an overwhelming number of Black people showed up to pound some fear into them wypipo. I will never forget the photo of five brothers on the dock closing in on two white boys like, “What’s up now?” My colleague Michael Harriot texted me this morning, “It‘s a rare explicit example of justice.” The explicit and immediate and overwhelming sense of justice is something we’re not used to seeing so when we do see it, it’s thrilling. 

See, I think one of the problems we still have with white people is that they don’t fear us enough. Respect for our humanity is extremely important, but if they learned to truly fear us then we would have an entirely different interaction. We need them to know more fear. In a world of Jason Aldeans and other Trump lovers blithely asserting their white supremacy, it’s so fulfilling to see Black people step up and say, “Nah.”

There are also footnotes that add critical context. Nikole Hannah-Jones tweeted, “If you understand the history of Montgomery — one of the most prolific slave-trading cities in the US turned brutally repressed apartheid regime after … it gives so much more perspective to this video. Trust.”

That’s a town where there was a robust slave trade and the riverfront was a space where they used to sell enslaved people. Right at that very spot, Black people rose up to strike some sense into the local whites. Were the ancestors there, watching and smiling? You best believe they were. Did that beatdown smudge the space? No doubt. 

Joy Reid texted me this earlier today: “The video is getting the visceral reaction it’s getting from Black folks because we know our history. White men (and women) for centuries had the unchecked power to brutalize any Black person they wanted to for any reason or none at all — for looking them in the eye, for not calling them ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’, for trying to register to vote. You name it. There were no consequences for them and deadly ones for us if we tried to fight back. Well that era is done and it ain’t coming back, no matter how many sundown-town fantasy songs their country singers make. Seeing Black folk come as a community to that security guard’s rescue, one guy even swimming over like Aquaman to help him, was a ‘Wakanda Assemble’ moment, in which a group of old school southern bullies effed around and found out. There’s something deeply satisfying about that for a lot of people.” Amen. 

This is also a moment when many of us learned that the folding chair was invented by a Black man named Nathaniel Alexander. That adds poetic justice to the sight of a Black man putting a folding chair on the heads of some racist white people. Also, in a world where we’re supposedly unable to swim, there’s a 16-year-old brother swimming in to join the fight. Some have nicknamed him AquaMayne. Some have called him Jermichael Phelps or Michael B. Phelps or Dark Spitz (like Mark Spitz, who won Olympic Gold in the ’70s). My friend said the swimmer gets us to the moment when “Knuck If You Buck” and “Wade In the Water” intersect with FAFO. My man said the new national anthem is “Lift Every Chair and Swing.” I’m dead.

We should turn this uprising into an annual reenactment with Black people in whiteface playing the boaters, and when a hat flies off into the sky setting off the Black signal, Black people will run and swim in to save their people like a Chuck D version of “Try That In a Small Town.” Because they did try that in a small town, and it did not work out for them. Never forget, y’all because this is priceless. We love to see Black people fighting back against racism! We love to see resistance. Folks are talking about how Aug. 5 is now a Black holiday. Amen.

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s.” He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!