Under Our Skin - Benjamin Watson Discusses Race in America

When Benjamin Watson, a Tight End in the NFL, wrote a Facebook post in the aftermath of the Ferguson, MO decision, some hailed it as a “race-baiting” others saw it as an attempt by at least one person to try to make sense of the racial tension in our world.

The thing is, whether we all like to admit it or not, race is still an issue in the United States. For the most part we’ve gotten over the biggest obstacles to living with one another: Jim Crow has been repealed, discrimination based on ethnicity is forbidden, and society doesn’t generally tolerate overt racists.

However, that doesn’t mean that the issue is settled. It isn’t. And the reason that we need to talk about it is so that we can identify and begin to root out subtler forms of bias against other races.

Benjamin Watson’s book, which was co-authored by Ken Petersen, tries to bring gracious light on the issue from the perspective of one African-American. This is a book that will make you think, even if you don’t agree with all of the details. That is, it will make you think as long as you take the time to read it and try to see what Watson is really communicating.

Summary

The book includes an introduction and eleven chapters. The topics of ten of the chapters come directly from the bullets in Watson’s original, viral Facebook post.

Watson begins with anger, but he recognizes what it is and boiling it down into a gracious tone. He invites the reader in to his perspective on the status of race relations in general and the Ferguson decision in particular. This chapter shows that our starting point can shape how we view the justice of the ending point. Instead of arguing with his readers, he tries to show why he arrives at his perspective.

That’s really the point of the book. It makes the reader aware that there is another perspective and that it is rational. In the end, the reader chooses to believe it or not, but a fair reader should walk away with a better understanding of Watson’s view of race in the United States. Although he certainly doesn’t speak for all African-Americans, his perspective is authentic and winsome. It can’t hurt much to think about things from his point of view.

In much the same way, the remaining ten chapters examine emotions that Watson experienced in response to the Ferguson decision. Introspection, embarrassment, frustration, fearful confusion, and sympathetic sadness are among them. Add to these things feeling offended and hopeless, but at the same time encouraged and empowered. Watson walks through how all these emotions were a part of his response. He does this without giving into any of them or becoming so rational that he discounts the power of the emotions.

Reaction

This isn’t a book on theology with a linear argument that I can critique. Even if it was, that isn’t the point of the book. The point of the book is to get the discussion about race going. It is intended to get one side to see that there is more to the conversation than facts and figures; simply showing that overt racism has been banned is not the end of the story. It is intended to show the other side how to begin a discussion without so much anger that your words can’t be heard.

I think that Watson succeeds in providing a gracious beginning point for conversation.

Watson’s book helps me, a white man, to better understand what it’s like to see things from his perspective. He puts into gracious terms some of the bits and pieces of testimony I’ve heard from friends that are part of racial minorities. I can’t have ever experienced these things, but I can certainly appreciate his perspective better now because he presents his case so carefully.

It is shameful that for many people on the political right simply talking about race has become a divisive political issue. Of course, often that idea is intentionally promoted, as some try to use racial division to paint the other side into a corner. But the issue is too important to allow it to driven by politics.

When we are talking about race, we are talking about people made in the image of God. We are talking about how we treat one another and whether justice is being done. Those are gospel issues, not merely political issues. This is a conversation that we can’t afford to skip out on. This deserves a deep discussion and consideration of where we are as a society, not merely a cursory head nod to equality.

I am thankful for Watson’s book and that he took the time to write it. He’s making enough playing football that he didn’t have to take the time, and yet he did. I’m thankful for the way he engaged the question so that I could benefit from his perspective.

In the end, I’m hopeful that reading this book has helped me see things a bit more clearly and gives me the ability to have a bit more empathy. I’m hopeful that others will read the book and have a similar experience.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume in exchange for an honest review.

Here is a video Watson did with The Gospel Coalition on this topic: