You’d have to be living with your head buried in the sand to be unaware of the racial tensions that Americans face today. In an attempt to deepen my understanding of these tensions, I recently read Under Our Skin, a book written by an NFL player and commentator on social media named Benjamin Watson.
Watson, a black man, does a wonderful job weaving together facts, personal stories, and cultural commentary into a well-written and thought-provoking book. I was hooked when he shared about completing some paperwork while at a recent visit with a doctor. When he came across a section on race, he hesitated:
“For the first time on a form like that, I selected ‘other.’ Not because I’m not proud of my skin color, my ancestry, or my heritage, because I am. I checked ‘other’ because I know that the real humanity, the soul and spirit under our skin, is what makes us who we are.
And on the blank like next to ‘other,’ I wrote HUMAN.” (p. xix)
I’ve often paused while completing forms like this and considered if I should do similarly!
One of the most important things Watson communicates is the concept of both/and. When addressing racial issues, whites and blacks are often at odds because many white people will point out how far we’ve come since slavery and the Jim Crow era, while many blacks will assert that there is still a lot of racism and unfair treatment of blacks in our nation. Watson explains that this sort of either/or thinking prevents us from making progress. We should be viewing things from a both/and perspective. We have come a long way and there is still racism. It’s not one or the other. Both are true.
Another important thing Watson does is encourage us to dialogue with one another about race. I know so many people who are afraid to do this because they don’t want to accidentally say something that might be offensive. For example, I know several white individuals who have been hesitant to talk about race because they don’t want to use the word “black” and offend someone who prefers “African American” or vice versa. We have to get over these fears! Watson puts it this way:
“Though our conversations might sometimes get heated and raw, that can be a good thing—as long as we’re honest with each other and as long as both of us know we respect each other.” (p. 40)
The two aspects of the book that I’ve mentioned above are great, but the single most important thing Watson does is frame his discussion of race with the gospel. He repeatedly states that we don’t have a skin problem, but we do have a sin problem. He rightfully declares that, because of our sinful nature, the race problem begins inside of each of us. He encourages us to look inside ourselves and identify our assumptions and biases. He even humbly confesses that he has prejudices and has made assumptions about white people as a whole! This broad discussion eventually narrows to emphasize one point:
“I believe that hope will be found only in the God of heaven and earth and in the choices we make about him.” (p. 178)
He sensitively, but without apology, explains how we must individually find the forgiveness and deliverance that is necessary for our collective unity.
Watson doesn’t share anything that is revolutionary and he doesn’t solve the race problem in America. However, he does provide a gospel-centered perspective that is a catalyst for conversation. He also provides a perspective that can help many white people better understand their black friends and neighbors. I don’t have to turn to a book to learn about one man’s experience of being black in America—my husband is black and we’ve talked about his experience at length—but I really appreciated hearing Watson’s perspective because every human being, regardless of race, has unique opinions. If you’re black (or another non-white race), don’t think that this book is specifically meant for white people. It’s for all of us!
I encourage you to purchase a copy of Under Our Skin or check one out from your library. Once you have it, read it with someone. Read it with your spouse or your teenage child. Read it with a small group from your church or with your next door neighbor. As you read it, talk about it. What have you learned? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? How will you live differently? A conversation guide for the book will soon be available to aid in this. In discussing these questions, we can make positive strides towards racial unity.
Have you read any good books or articles on race relations recently? If so, please share about them below in the comments section.
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