Under Our Skin

I remember exactly where I was when the Ferguson verdict was read.  I remember weeping as I watched a city unravel before my eyes on the television.  Days later, a post by Benjamin Watson (Tight End for the New Orleans Saints) went viral.  Out of all that was being said in those days, I thought his words rang the loudest and the truest.  As an American Christian, I could not verbalize anything better than what he posted that day.

Other people thought so too.  I think his balanced words were so needed in that moment that someone decided he should expand it and put it into book format.  I am so grateful that he did.  Under Our Skin is an extremely helpful book.

I think it is so important to read books by people who are not exactly like us.

Too often, we read people who look the same way, vote the same way, prescribe the same way as we do.  While theologically, it appears that Watson and myself are in similar categories, it is helpful for me to hear from a godly, black Christian concerning his thoughtful perspective on race in America.  Many things he said I would tell my wife, “see, that’s what I just told you!”

Other insights are unique because:

  • I have never been pulled over by police because I look “suspicious.”
  • I have never known what it is like for people to assume I’m in college because of an athletic scholarship.
  • I wasn’t raised by parents who experienced the other side of segregation.
  • I have never fully appreciated the power of hip hop as a voice of a generation.

Watson’s book is extremely helpful for those who want to stop this us/them mentality when it comes to race.

I really think it can challenge you and cause you to think about things you need to think about.  Below, you can read some of my favorite quotes (but there are plenty more) and also his original post that started all of this back in November 2014.

Favorite Quotes

  1. 41Y7mrZ25cL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_There’s a feeling in white America that everything is equal now.  But black people know in their bones that there’s still a residue of neoslavery that sticks to much of life (9).
  2. We pick up our attitudes, assumptions, and prejudices from the world around us (30).
  3. …I would argue that some social media platforms can also falsely report impressions as facts, opinion as truth, and emotions as cause (56).
  4. But I take issue with the lie that “the good life” is found in large quantities of money, cars, and women.  I take issue with what they [hip hop artists] choose to glorify: pride, self-indulgence, and greed (76).
  5. I suggest that we all try to get beyond the statistics and agree together that the unjust killing of any person by the police is a tragedy.  Can’t we see in the deaths of those who have been killed – white and black – the tragedy of a lost life (102-103)?
  6. What A Time to Kill illustrates, I believe, is the difference between the issues we hold dear and the people we hold dear (115).
  7. When we as races are separate, safe among the numbers of white people or black people surrounding us, we lose sight of the others’ humanity (116).
  8. If we are pro-life, should we not be about protecting life whether it is a fetus or a six-year-old or a teenager or a twentysomething young man on the street (118)?
  9. It angers me to no end that, while people mourn, others have the nerve to insult them because they think the deceased somehow deserved this outcome (120).
  10. [In a letter to his daughter] I want you to approach people as individuals, understanding that not all whites are against you and that not all blacks have your best interests at heart (131).
  11. And though there is no task in heaven or on earth more difficult than changing the human heart, I believe in the one who can do it.  It requires a supernatural solution (166).
  12. It’s amazing that melanin – the pigment that gives human skin, hair, and eyes their color – has caused so much pain and tragedy in America (190).
  13. On the contrary – prayer is one of the most powerful and pragmatic actions we can take to overcome racism in America (203).

Watson’s Post [Nov. 25. 2014]

At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.

I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.

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2 Comments

  1. Sheryle Frederic

    Is this book in our bookstore or do I have to order it?

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