All of the Nuance We Are Missing from the Riverboat Brawl of 2023

Whitney Alese
Published in
4 min readAug 8

The recent Riverboat Brawl in Montgomery, Alabama is all over the internet.

According to NBC, the incident began when “A group of rowdy boaters refused to move their pontoon and attacked the dock worker when he untied the boat to make way for the Harriott II.” That dock worker was actually co-captain Damien Pickett. The Riverboat riders recorded as multiple men violently attacked the Mr. Pickett after he asked them to move their pontoon so that the riverboat could safely dock.

What ensued was an all-out brawl that has popular culture not just talking, but laughing. The proliferation of memes, songs, skits, and commentary have been enough to occupy popular discourse for days.

While we are all enjoying this moment, we should also discuss the nuance that is being missed in this conversation.

First we must discuss the initial attack and why so many people were surprised that so many Black people would come to the aid of Mr. Pickett.

There is an expectation of Black passivity in these events. There is an expectation that Black people will simply sit idly by in the face of violence and cruelty, specifically if White people inflict that violence.

At the same time, there is also a divergence from accountability when assailants are White.

Critics condemning the people who went to assist the lone Mr Pickett often did not have the same condemnation for the people who viciously attacked…

Whitney Alese
Writer for

Whitney Alese is a writer & podcaster, featured in WIRED Magazine (Sept 2020) & I-D Magazine (Dec. 2021), and NBC (Jan 2023). She is based in Philadelphia.