There was no racial reckoning
Updated 1351 GMT (2151 HKT) May 25, 2021
(CNN)They tell me I've experienced a "racial reckoning."
I keep seeing that phrase pop up in news stories. I hear politicians and CEOs use the term as if there's no doubt it's true. I even put the phrase in one of my own headlines without ever asking myself what a racial reckoning meant.
It's hard to avoid using that phrase, because it reflects a consensus. A year after the death of George Floyd, many Americans routinely describe the protests that followed last summer as a singular, racially transformative moment.
But I've reached an uncomfortable conclusion:
Floyd's death did not lead to a racial reckoning. And those who care about racial justice should welcome the absence of one -- or at least the version I'm talking about.
The "racial reckoning" phrase has become a rhetorical decoy, a way to avoid facing the deepest problems about race in America instead of a call to confront them.
What racial reckonings and cicadas have in common
I know that sounds blasphemous. Floyd's death sparked what some called the largest protest movement in US history. White support for the Black Lives Matter reached an all-time high. Demonstrators toppled Confederate monuments. And so many people bought books on antiracism that booksellers had trouble keeping them in stock.
It seemed as if we were finally turning the corner. Maryland lawmakers passed a series of police reforms that limited no-knock warrants. The Seattle City Council banned chokeholds and tear gas by police. Small predominantly White towns held Black Lives Matter rallies.
A renowned Yale University professor described the wave of protests as an "awakening" that is "rare in our history."
"This is the time to strike, the time to take audacious steps to address systemic racial inequality -- bold, sweeping reparative action," Yale psychologist Jennifer Richeson wrote in an essay last September.
Yet look at what happened in the months after the US experienced its racial "awakening" following Floyd's death last May.
A group of audacious Americans did strike -- at the heart of our democracy. A mob staged a "White riot" on the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of last year's presidential election. Former President Trump, viewed by many as a racist, received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history except for his opponent.
And Republican lawmakers in more than 45 states are now mounting what some call the most sustained assault against Black civil rights since the Jim Crow era by introducing more than at least 361 bills to restrict voting, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.
So why do we keep saying that the country has experienced a racial reckoning?
Part of it is habit. White America has been telling itself that it is experiencing a racial awakening for decades. These awakenings are like the cicadas that emerge every 17 years. The phrase resurfaces in headlines whenever some shocking act of racial brutality happens and White America is shocked and moved to tears. Then the moral outrage fades and the news cycle moves on.