The Alabama Riverfront Incident
Published August 22, 2023
Arguably, Generation X does not know revolution, as in is not intimately familiar with its taste, feel, and echo in the distance. Some of us were mere babies when the white settler project violently ripped Hampton, King, and Malcolm from our collective chest. The remembrance of Ida B. Wells, Marcus Garvey, Hubert Harrison, and Paul Robeson was handled by making housing projects, streets that would become through-ways for impoverished communities, and schools that would suffer once busing was introduced our warriors’ namesakes. Often, our revolutionaries have been less known to us for their radicalism and commitment to liberate Black folks and more for their government-sanctioned murders and early and trauma-induced deaths, physically or metaphorically.
As the children of Baby Boomers, what we and our children have embedded in our mind’s eye as visuals for revolution have been refracted through white liberalism’s prism. Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement toggle between Black folk beaten and bludgeoned bloody or marching morally in malignity. They make us look like victims or beggars. And that’s deliberate revision. Even in our non-violent protests and marches, we were revolutionaries. Whether it is your choice of tactic, it is a very disciplined strategy for revolution versus how it is conveyed as something that meek, integration-loving Black people do. But we don’t know or embrace that because the story is told to appeal to white America’s palette, to make them feel safe and to embolden them to abuse and torment Black bodies.
Meanwhile, three generations of Black folks have had to dry-swallow white liberals’ conception of Black people as non-confrontational, whipped-into-perpetual-submission punks. And that conception is why too many of us are out here loud and proud yelling, “I am not my ancestors.” You’re doggone right you aren’t. WE aren’t a Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, James Baldwin, Mutulu Shakur, George Jackson, or Jonathan Jackson. But we could be. We have been. The brothers in Alabama demonstrated that they want to be, showed what it looks like to be revolutionary and show up as Black first to combat who we know is the common enemy—those who disregard our humanity with venom and violence.
The Alabama Riverfront was a glimpse of the revolution. Those brothers didn’t stop to see if the brother who was attacked was voting blue-no-matter-who; if he attended church or mosque; who he chose as a significant other. And nor did that sista who can be heard belting, “Y’all go help that brotha,” stop to determine if he was worthy of help based on the false narrative that Black men don’t protect Black women. NONE of that happened.
Perhaps this is why many of us in our conversation about the Alabama Riverfront incident did not recognize it as a glimpse of the revolution—because we are never seen as fighting back. We are never seen as identifying the common enemy that thrives on our suffering. We are never envisioned as fighting for each other. We are expected to shun violence as a legitimate and human reaction to aggression. We see our elite, scholars, and celebrities talk us out of meeting our oppressors at the scratch line time and time again and instead acquiesce, actions described as playing chess.
More accurately, the dominant culture has longed lied about the nature of Black men. Ethnological narratives state that Black men are inherently violent and monstuous, the villain among their own collective. So how could Black men characterized as monsters exhibit care and concern for each other? The duality of those brothers’ response was the combination of love for the well-being of Black folks and contempt of our suffering.
The Alabama Riverfront incident did not change the conditions of the masses of Black folk. But neither has decades of integration. That battle by the water, very timely in its occurrence during Black August, has significance. If we are brave, if we are committed to defining for ourselves revolution and revolutionaries, we will see how that battle won can lead us to liberation.