How a White Folding Chair Became a Symbol of Resistance


Within hours of the start of the fight on the Alabama riverbank this month, photos and video clips of the brawl began circulating online. Then came the memes. After that, it was not long before the goods began to appear.

On August 5, a group of white sailors attacked Damien Pickett, the captain of a black riverboat, after he had instructed them to dock his pontoon elsewhere as the place was reserved for a larger ship. A group of mostly black onlookers rushed to her defense. In the aftermath of the controversy, a white folding chair – an unexpected weapon that one man was seen waving over his head during the encounter – has emerged as a mocking-but-not-really symbol of resistance against perceived racial aggression .

on tiktok, #boat fight And #montgomerybrawl The video has been viewed millions of times. lists have flourished by the dozens At retailers such as TripAdvisor, Etsy, and eBay. In recent weeks earrings, necklaces, mugs, T-shirts and window decals have all been modeled after the folding chair’s image.

By August 10, four people wanted in connection with the brawl had turned themselves in to the Montgomery Police Department. Reggie Ray, the man accused of using a chair in the fight, has also been charged with disorderly conduct.

Since then, the market for all things folding chairs has been on the rise. At least two online auctions allegedly advertised the white chair that was actually used in the brawl, one of which listed $35,000According to eBay, it ended abruptly “because there was an error in the listing”.

However, for Tamika Hicks of Lewisburg, NC, the chair represented much more than a cash grab. Ms Hicks, 38, a full-time health care worker who runs a Etsy Handicraft Shop On the side, Said she got into this unusual cottage industry by accident, she originally made a pair of folding chair earrings for a friend after seeing a controversy online. After an overwhelming response to her Facebook post showing off the earrings, she found an opportunity to generate more income. He said he has received around 1,000 orders this month.

“People don’t understand the power of social media,” Ms Hicks said. “Something that went viral has brought me other forms of income as a single mom. I am also able to be a part of this conversation and keep it going.”

Jasmine Green, a visual artist in Pittsburgh, was quick to capitalize on the moment. she is selling on her website chair earrings Her own design has the words “Try Me” carved into the center of the seat. She said she planned to send some of the profit after expenses to a fund set up for those who came to Mr. Pickett’s rescue, including Mr. Ray.

“Part of the celebration of this chair has been the idea of ​​collective care,” said Ms. Green, who is also director of education at the nonprofit. 1Hood Media Academy, which provides arts, education, and social justice programs to communities of color. “But I also want to remind people to make sure we also keep track of those who were involved in the fighting in case they need resources.”

Uju Anya, an associate professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Modern Languages, was given a pair of Ms. Green’s “Try Me” earrings by her girlfriend and wore them to a Pittsburgh Steelers game, where she said strangers applauded her . To them, earrings are much more than just a comical fashion trend.

“It’s empowering and a collective sigh of relief,” said Professor Anya.

Professor Anya suggested that the humor behind the white folding chair was influential to a particular audience. “Anybody can understand memes or TikTok generally,” she said, “but the imagery of this chair is specific to us and its language is very specific to Black people and Black culture.”

Kaylen Sanders, a bank teller and musician in Dallas, said he found himself greatly influenced by videos he saw online. Mr. Sanders said in an interview, “The fact that it didn’t turn into a situation where guns went out, or someone actually died or something, it felt like a huge relief.” He added that it was encouraging to see other Black people “stepping forward to defend a Black man who could have had another reason.”

“To me,” he said, “it represents black unity.”

Instead of showing their support by just buying a T-shirt or hat, they decided to immortalize it on his skinA new tattoo on his left arm reads “Montgomery, Alabama” with the date “August”. 5, 2023.” A detailed drawing of a folding chair is centered in the middle.

After a conversation with his fiancée, Camryn Moss, the two got the idea for the tattoo. Two days after the brawl, he and Ms. Moss, who is a tattoo artistsat down to spend the day at his mother’s house inking.

Mr. Sanders said, “I don’t regret it, and it’s not a joke.” “I don’t think in all these years I’ll be like, ‘Oh, why did I do that?'”

Any emotionally charged moment that combines race and anxiety causes people to “feel connected,” according to Ravi Dhar, a behavioral scientist at the Yale School of Management who specializes in consumer behavior and branding.

Professor Dhar said, “The unique thing here was also the location.” The brawl at Montgomery’s popular riverfront park happened at the same dock enslaved Africans once came by steamboat For sale in the city center. (Although the fight appears to have been racially motivated, Montgomery police have said they do not plan to pursue hate crime charges.)

“It signals that not much has changed,” he said, “but it seems that this chair has offered a different perspective.”

Professor Dhar compared the unlikely imagery of the folding chair to other moments in history that could be represented by a single image or object: for example, Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem as a statement on police brutality. Granted, or Red Hat at a Trump rally. In its intrinsic connection to actual events, the chair also evokes memories of the umbrellas used by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray during the movement’s 2014 street protests.

“This white chair isn’t something that’s inherently violent,” said artist Ms. Green, “I think that’s what allowed people to have a sense of humor around it.” But it’s that simple thing that plays such an important role.”


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