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“Can it ever get better? This is the question Benjamin Watson is asking. In a country aflame with the fallout from the racial divide–in which Ferguson, Charleston, and the Confederate flag dominate the national news, daily seeming to rip the wounds open ever wider–is there hope for honest and healing conversation? For finally coming to understand each other on issues that are ultimately about so much more than black and white? An NFL tight end for the New Orleans Saints and a widely read and followed commentator on social media, Watson has taken the Internet by storm with his remarkable insights about some of the most sensitive and charged topics of our day. Now, in “Under Our Skin, ” Watson draws from his own life, his family legacy, and his role as a husband and father to sensitively examine both sides of the race debate and appeal to the power and possibility of faith as a step toward healing.”

Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race–And Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us

I must preface this with I am white. I grew up in a town where a single female social worker made too much money to get free lunch in school. I have had run ins with the police where the Puerto Rican kids with me were treated poorly. I mouthed off and walked away just fine (they did too thankfully, the officers were punished which seems even more rare). I know I am coming from a place of privilege.

Watson has this wild idea that God will solve everything, he does not name which god but based on capitalization and the way he speaks I assumed the Christian God. Every single point comes back to praying and the need for more church. That God is the ONLY way that racism will end. So already, I am like “what no? Have you not heard of the Crusades? Not heard of conversion therapy? Not heard of the Stolen Generation?”. Religion has been used repeatedly to reinforce, explain, and excuse racist, sexist, and queerphobic actions. So I feel like this line of thinking isn’t going to be helpful in the slightest. If it was more “I found religion has helped me come to terms with things and learned XYZ” that would be a totally different concept and would have gotten me in a lot further instead of pushing me away. Instead this is a very THE ONE TRUE WAY sort of thinking.

Within the first 100 pages, Watson does a lot of things that made me really upset. I should really just make a list of the biggest issues, if I listed all the issues I would just copy and paste whole sections of the book:

  1. Is anti-welfare. This was brought up when a friend was blaming black people on welfare for things, so the author goes “well more white people are on welfare, so this is not a race issue. I hate welfare”. So classism is cool I guess. Never mind that class is a huge issue when it comes to equality. There is a whole morality thing mixed up with class. If you are poor then you are bad, if you are rich you are good is what is used by conservatives to promote class issues. Considering how many examples from Watson involve class, you think it would be more obvious that class is a huge deal.
  2. Points out that someone is racist and redirects them to a sexist point of view instead. The same friend from the above point is mad that a black woman got a promotion over him, blames it on her being black. Watson goes “what if it is because she is a woman? Not everything is about race”. Swap one issue for another why don’t you? What if she was more qualified for the position? What if she is actually better for the job? What if his racism came out at work and he was bumped due to it? Why is Watson relying on sexism to make his point?
  3. Says that a type of music causes bad behavior and lists “perversion” as one of the bad behaviors. This reads so hardcore of “devils music” and blame rock music for the evils of the world that I thought it was laughable. The issue is, while Watson blamed one type of music, he had valid points in the misogyny and violence that is shown in music, but the issue is he picked one type of music that is heavily coded as black to attack for this. So the only music he picks on is black coded and his reasoning is again in the end religious. So yeah, hip-hop has its issues, but you are blaming black people and ignoring the huge issue with who actually gets produced and what other genres are doing.
  4. Blames black people for racism repeatedly. If black people would just behave better or try harder, then racism couldn’t touch them is the thinking that Watson puts out. He is a pro-football player. He has such a skewed view of how things work when it comes to money. He has money that I will never see in my life. He made more in 2004 than I can make in my life in my current job which is considered a good job in my area. I got this job by going to college and then stumbling into the right places at the right time. I got lucky. I didn’t have to deal with racism. I didn’t get passed over in admissions because of my name. I got an interview where my skin didn’t discount me from working. I was given the benefit of the doubt when I had a run in with the police for walking in high school, despite how I mouthed off and did not listen when the officer demanded I put my phone away. So I really just can’t buy into the idea that if black people just worked harder they would be fine is what should be the discussion. I was fired for being queer from a job. I did nothing, but exist. My queerness can be hidden, it can be a don’t ask, don’t tell situation if I had to for safety. Skin is not that way. So I’m sorry, I can’t buy into the idea of blaming black people for racism.
  5. Spouts ideas that are very much rooted in racism like the idea that black fathers are all in jail and blaming people for not listening to police when they are victims of police brutality. So the jokes and the racist stereotypes that white people seem to love are what Watson is parroting. There are so many times I am worried about how much racism that Watson has internalized.

The book may get better, but I can’t take any more. This book blames the victim over and over again. Constantly says the only way to fix things is something that is exclusionary as it stands, so his solution only works for those he deems worthy or “moral”. Watson has constant value judgments about morality that are not relevant and often undercut his point. Check out How to Be an Antiracist which covers where a lot of my thinking on this post came from (especially the parts where Watson blames black people).

The only parts in this book that I enjoyed were the parts that were more memoir. I got to see a new way of looking at things and got to hear about some people that really are trying to be the best people they can be. Those portions were not enough to get me through the book though.

1 out of 5 stars. I would not recommend this book.

You can buy the book here.

~Isaiah