Two years ago today, the world watched in horror as a police officer named Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of 46-year-old George Floyd and—in full view of screaming onlookers—kept it there until Floyd was dead.
In the weeks and months following those horrible moments, it was possible to imagine that we, as a culture, had somehow finally had enough. Enough of the senseless violence. Enough of the willed historical amnesia. Enough of judicial dissembling. Enough of the political indifference. Enough of, well, all of it. Millions of people across the nation spilled out into the streets in collective heartbreak. By their own admission, many of these people had never taken American racism seriously before. It was a time of new insight. A time of new alliances. A time of new resolve. A time of new commitment to change our common life.
Or so it seemed.
Even as these marches and protests began to take shape, a counter-movement began to form. According to this counter-movement, the real problem in America was not the senseless murder of a human being—and of many thousands like him—because of the ongoing realities of American racism. No, the real issue was an alleged conspiracy to infect our children with racist and unpatriotic ideologies. And so, seemingly out of nowhere, in many parts of American culture—the Church not least among them—the conversation turned irrevocably away from the reality of George Floyd and toward the barely understood and yet broadly maligned specter of “Critical Race Theory.” Instead of changing our common life, many of us decided simply to change the subject.
This decision was not without consequence. Almost as quickly as it had opened, the hope of racial healing began to close. And in its place emerged one of the most brutal and cynical phases of the culture war in American history. This war has been fought along many fronts: mask mandates, vaccine requirements, business lockdowns, school attendance, income distribution, executive authority, election results, voting redistricting, gun ownership, corporate censorship, and sexual misconduct, to name but a few.
And though this war has been—to date—largely contained to the realm of ideological conflict, discursive poison, and political maneuvering, it has also shown undeniable signs of tilting toward physical violence. Indeed, in 2022 alone (and it is only May at the time of this writing) America has suffered 215 mass shootings—with 4 in the past week alone, 3 of which were explicitly culturally motivated.
The story of these two years, in other words, is in many important respects tragically regressive. It is a story of denial. Of avoidance. Of recrimination. Because of this, George Floyd and those like him—including 10 African Americans murdered by a white supremacist in Buffalo —lie unburied in our common life. Indeed, they lie as ongoing reminders of our collective inability to tell the truth and to follow it with love. Like so many Abels, their blood continues to cry out accusingly from the ground. The screaming onlookers continue to scream. And the grotesque powers that murdered them continue to grow and to do so with impunity and without meaningful redress.
What consolation is there in such a moment? Only this. That at a moment in history not at all unlike this one, a time when brother turned against brother, vanity turned against love, and lies turned against truth, our God intervened. “Where is your brother?” “What have you done?” “I hear the voice of your brother’s blood crying out from the ground.” This is our God: the God who hears, who comes, and who intervenes to make all things new—even in a moment such as this. And this, our consolation, is also our calling: to follow God into the violent self-deceit of this world, to bear witness to the voices of the forsaken, and to labor—even as we are blinded by our own tears—toward a world made whole.