“Lift Every Chair and Swing.” “Aquamayne” and “Fade in the Water.” These were some of the top trending social media topics just a couple of weeks ago. Like so many of you, I was mesmerized by the video footage shared on social media of the racial attack at the Montgomery, Alabama Riverfront brawl. From the time I saw the footage that Sunday evening until early Tuesday morning a few days later, I spent too much time laughing at the memes showing people practicing swinging folding chairs, recreating the attack with gummy bears, and singing new songs featuring sound effects from the fight. Some of them were hilarious. I wondered how folks could create videos that were that humorous in such a short amount of time.
When the fight happened, I wanted to write about it but wasn’t sure what to say that hadn’t already been said. It was obvious that it was a racially motivated fight. It was also obvious that the fight was a response to years to repression of African Americans. Surprisingly, there were some folks that questioned why the ship’s co-captain who was viciously attacked while merely doing his job didn’t just turn the other cheek and walk away.
After thinking about it, I concluded that what was so fascinating about the incident was how it illustrated that there is a rage that lingers. The rage is not about hating white folks or even the rage of an obvious injustice. Names like Emmett Till, Rodney King, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, and Ahmad Arbery stir up many emotions like anger and frustration at the senseless and, in some cases, deadly violence they endured. After thinking about it and hearing commentary about how the fight showed that African Americans will defend each other even if we don’t personally know you, I kept thinking that was just part of the reason why there was such a swift response to the strong defense of the ship’s first mate.
I also don’t think the fight was just about fighting back finally after years of oppression. Part of the energy of the fight was also rooted in the feeling of helplessness or more specifically perceived helplessness. Perceptions of feelings whether reasonable or not often lead to more fights than the feelings themselves. For example, it’s perceiving that there is a disrespect (even if there is no evidence) that causes fights and leaves hurt feelings. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” In other words, our perceptions, what we think about others, can be dangerous.
I’m surprised that more men and women of faith, black and white, didn’t address the Montgomery brawl other than to mention it in passing during their Sunday sermons. There was a missed opportunity to unpack some critical issues regarding how Christians should respond to issues of race, injustice, and entitlement. What we saw in Montgomery wasn’t a rare instance of fighting against racism (which African Americans have done for centuries in this country.) What we saw was a real-life example of the danger of misperception and how it leaves a residue of repressed rage that will always come to the surface when you least expect it.