There was a lump in my throat, a pit in my stomach, and a pain in my chest. I was holding my breath and didn’t know it.
I felt as though I couldn’t breathe.
I, along with thousands of others, was transfixed in a moment as we collectively waited for the verdict in the case of Derek Chauvin to be released.
Finally, it came.
He was found guilty, guilty, guilty.
What we already knew was confirmed for the whole world to see, much in the same way that we all witnessed the lethal pressure of his knee.
While there was a wide range of emotions according to hot takes and social media postings, I waited for the tension to leave my body. However, with my shoulders still tight and my jaw slightly clenched, I struggled to experience what I thought would be a more profound sense of relief.
I recognized the significance of this moment and wondered what was preventing me from fully entering into a space that was a bit more celebratory. I was glad this was the outcome of course, but it wasn’t enough. How could it be? The truth is that George Floyd should still be here, and the fact that we know his name at all leaves me deeply grieved.
We know his name not because we named him, shared childhood memories together, laughed at one another’s jokes, or enjoyed each other’s company. We know his name not because we formed a friendship, a lasting bond, looked out for each other on the schoolyard, or compared parenting stories.
No. We know his name because it sparked a movement when it was added to an ongoing list of Black lives reduced to hashtags, in the wake of never-ending trauma inflicted by an inherently dangerous system built on racist policing.
Knowing his name doesn’t mean we knew him, however; but it’s what we have become accustomed to experiencing. Through the headlines, trauma porn, artistic renderings, and interviews with weeping mothers, we are prompted into action to either fight for or diminish the deceased’s inherent dignity. I wish that I could say that in spaces seeking Jesus the former posture would reign supreme, but there are too many times that I’ve witnessed the deplorable responses of professing Christ-followers who believe that having the ability to name someone is enough to question their imago Dei.
This is evidenced by how easy it is for members of the Church to intellectualize Black death, as some sort of social experiment they can walk away from when things get a bit too messy; determining how much they should or shouldn’t be bothered by a person’s demise using a sliding scale based on character and performance, respectively.
We observe this when more effort is given to CRT and analyzing the term ‘social justice’ rather than lamenting how they, too, have bought into the lie that our white supremacist society actually cares equally about everybody’s safety.
This is what we see happening in faith spaces that will name a tragedy for the purpose of a one-time sermon illustration but won’t put in the real work of honoring the lived experiences of Black members within their congregations daily.
And we witness this when a name it seems everyone else is speaking is conveniently ignored so that self-righteous Jesus loving folks can remain steeped in their privilege as they look the other way.
We know their names but we don’t value their personhood. We think it’s enough to simply put them in a box of our own doing while simultaneously eliminating the fullness of their God-given glory.
The dead become a statistic that we debate regarding who has the right idea about what they did and did not deserve, and in so doing we convince ourselves that we have been granted the rights as gatekeepers who hold the key to determining whether or not someone was worthy enough to finish living out their story.
Knowing one’s name gives some a false sense of power they truly don’t deserve, as they would rather trample over the sacredness of another image bearer’s life like the dirt beneath their feet, while at the same time praising the Lord on a Sunday.
Yet for all those who feel it is their pious duty to inform the rest of us about a life they knew nothing of, some of us, particularly those embodied in blackness, lie awake at night unable to sleep.
We toss and turn with nightmares about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright, Ma’Khia Bryant, Andrew Brown Jr., and a whole host of others. And as names get added to the growing list, we pray that those most precious to us will have the opportunity to remain in anonymity.
At a critical time when there is more awareness surrounding the Black and brown blood that is being spilled in the streets, knowing these names is only the beginning. We simply cannot dull our senses or our thinking in order to believe that the God who counts every hair on our heads only did so for these beloved persons so they could fulfill some truly macabre purpose of being “sacrificed for justice” as some would like to believe.
Our names are not empty placeholders that are to be flippantly smeared across our television screens. They bear witness to our creation and our existence, as we reflect The Divine who told us from day one that we are worthy.
Under normal circumstances, a typical introduction to someone new would leave me determined to memorize names upon our first meeting. I strive to commit what they’ve told me to memory, in an effort to make them feel valued and seen. But in the case of George Floyd and all who were murdered tragically, I will quote Sharifa Stevens who captured my sentiments exactly when she wrote “I would rather George Floyd be anonymous and alive”. That’s precisely where the rubber hits the road for me.
God knew their names and now you and I do too. I wish we didn’t, and I hold on wearily to the thought that, one day, things might be different. Especially given the tragic fact that we act as though certain lives only become relevant at the exact moment that they’re ending.