For Christians of all colors who are concerned about racial tension, Benjamin Watson shows the way to reconciliation.
*Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson. Tyndale, 2015, 204 pages
Reading Level: Teen, age 15-up
Recommended for: ages 16-up
On August 9, 2014, a black 19-year-old was shot and killed by a white police officer in a suburb of St. Louis. You could probably supply the name of the teen, the cop, and especially the town, since all have become bywords in the ongoing struggle for racial harmony in America. Michael Brown was not the only high-profile police-shooting victim that summer, which is one reason why his death brought tensions to the boiling point that spilled over six weeks later when a grand jury decided the officer, Darrin Wilson, would not be indicted for murder. All night demonstrations raged in cities across the nation. The following day, November 25, Benjamin Watson, unable to sleep or settle his thoughts, typed a long post in his tablet in between running errands with his wife. In the evening he posted it to his Facebook page. It began, I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes . . .
It was a post that launched a thousand comments, likes, and shares. Benjamin Watson, whose day job is playing tight end for the New Orleans Saints, found himself playing spokesman for the black everyman who, unlike every other American, can never seem to get beyond his heritage. The post went more than viral: it grow and articulated and percolated and eventually became this book, each chapter of which expands on the emotions Watson described back in November 2014: Angry, Frustrated, Fearful, Embarrassed, Sad, Sympathetic, Offended, Confused, Introspective, Hopeless, Hopeful, and finally Encouraged.
You don’t get it, he tells his white readers. One story illustrates his point: Watson was playing for the Patriots when his first child was born. When his wife went into labor in the wee cold hours of Jan. 9 he packed her into the car with an overnight bag, like any anxious dad, and began the drive to their Boston hospital. From long-established discipline—all responsible African Americans learn this—he took special care to drive the speed limit and watch all signs and signals, especially while pulling on to the Interstate. Seconds later, he was stopped by a white cop. For no reason; the officer never gave a reason and never apologized, just nodded at them to get moving once he had taken his own sweet time to fully assess the situation.
We white people actually don’t get it, which is why Watson’s book is one every white American should read—not just to feel bad, but to begin a process of real reconciliation. Other books on a similar theme aren’t as helpful. Between the World and Me, another title inspired by the Ferguson incident, sold in the millions and heaped literary honors on its author, but offered no real hope. According to Ta-Nehisi Coates, the situation is hopeless; America is founded on racial hatred and that’s that. Benjamin Watson sees hope for one reason only—Jesus Christ. Christ is in the reconciliation business, and the foot of his cross is the only place where we can be honest with each other. It’s the only place where true forgiveness happens.
I’m guessing most white people don’t observe Black History Month. But this month, it would be good for all white Christians, and actually Christians of all colors and backgrounds, to read Under Our Skin. Read it and talk about it, and make an effort, perhaps, to reach out to black Christians to talk about it together. I’m hopeful too, but only if we pray and search our souls.
Overall Rating: 5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 5
- Literary value: 4.5
Benjamin Watson, Under Our Skin, multicultural, racism, nonfiction, Christian