Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race—And Getting Free From The Fears And Frustrations That Divide Us, by Benjamin Watson with Ken Petersen
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Tyndale Momentum in exchange for an honest review.]
“What is under our skin, and under the skin problem in America, is a spiritual problem. Every time we point at someone else or an entire race—reducing them to a single story, diminishing them by stereotypes and assumptions—we overlook our own failure (188).” In this line, and many others like it throughout this well-written book that manages to be both deeply nuanced as well as deeply passionate, NFL player Benjamin Watson discusses the contentious nature of contemporary race relations in the United States as a spiritual issue, and points to the fact that within every heart is the potential to look down on others, to raise accident to the point of view of identity, to look only skin deep and to judge people without ever getting to know them, to keep ourselves with those who look like us and never developing the love of other people as people like ourselves. He discusses the fear of being stopped by the police, like he was when he drove his wife to the hospital while she was in labor, the reality of name-calling and ridicule and abuse.
In terms of its contents, this book sprang from a desire to wrestle with the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, at the hands of a police officer. He made a thoughtful and complicated statement, the clauses of which form the chapters of this book, describing the author as: angry, introspective, embarrassed, frustrated, fearful and confused, sad and sympathetic, hopeless, hopeful, encouraged, and empowered. As a thoughtful and faith-based reply to a situation in which it was easy for people to engage in arguments based on soundbites, the message resonated, went viral, and earned Mr. Watson his first book deal, but probably not his last, given the excellence of this particular volume. As might be expected for a book of this kind, it comes full of blurbs praising the book by various football figures, many of whom are successful writers themselves like Tony Dungy , as well as others within the Christian community like noted songwriter Chris Tomlin. Yet this is a book that ought to appeal to a wider audience than merely football fans of Christians interested in a discussion of the issue of race, although that is admittedly a fairly large audience to begin with.
At its heart, this book is a memoir about the honesty that is required to move beyond the awkwardness of distance. It is a reminder that in order to understand something like race one has to see it from inside and outside, to see what it is like to be accepted and what it is like to be rejected and excluded, to feel fear at the presence of police officers and to feel safe and sound, to wonder what everyone else is complaining about and to feel the frustration of having to prove oneself as nonthreatening over and over and over again. As an athlete in a world where most of the players are black and most of the fans are white, with all of the latent potential for racism that is involved in an area where there are concerns about being mere entertainment  for others, the author demonstrates himself to be a commentator of great worth whose personal story is a compelling one, and who speaks many truths painful to hear when it comes to the way that we as Americans tend to segregate ourselves so easily, especially when it comes to our communities of faith. Although this book was prompted by events that will likely not long be remembered except for students of social history who explore questions of the relationship between civilians and police, issues of racial tension, or race-based rioting, the reflections included in this book are likely to be of enduring value so long as race remains an issue of contention within the United States. As the author states in another place, “Under our skin, we are the same—flesh, blood, and spirit. We are commonly human. All of us are human beings, whom God created (191).” Why is it so hard to act upon that truth?
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