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Benjamin Watson thinks there’s a way back from the brink

It’ll take talking about past grievances, building relationships and honesty among the races

After the second ambush killing of police officers, presumably in retaliation for a string of killings of black men by police, I was compelled to call Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson. He is the author of Under Our Skin, a book about America’s racial issues and the power of Christianity to bring about progress. Here are some of the thoughts he gave me.


What are your thoughts after the police killings?

What we are seeing now is an illegitimate response to some of the things that have been happening in the past few years. This is a response by a foolish few. It detracts from us all trying to unify and talk about a real issue. When things like this happen, it drives a wedge back in.

How do you feel about the Black Lives Matter movement?

They have a reason to be upset.

When you look at the psychological implications on a group of people that just got all of their rights in the ’60s and the psychological implications on a majority who has collectively held down the other class, it makes sense we have these problems now. They don’t know why they can’t look at us as equals all the time, because they have been conditioned that way. And we don’t know why we can’t always look at ourselves as equals.

So when we say “Black Lives Matter,” we are telling ourselves that, too. Everything that we have been told is that we don’t matter.

Where do we go from here?

I think the most pressing issue when it comes to race is recognizing that there is a problem. Many of us are not recognizing that there is an issue still when it comes to race. We live in this strange dichotomy where on the one hand I am excited about the progress, and on the other hand, I’m depressed by the lack thereof.

Millville, New Jersey police chaplain Bob Ossler (L) prays with Baton Rouge Police Department Corporal Trina Dorsey (C) and her brother Corporal Joseph Keller near a makeshift memorial for three police officers on July 19, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Millville, New Jersey, police chaplain Bob Ossler (L) prays with Baton Rouge Police Department Cpl. Trina Dorsey (C) and her brother Cpl. Joseph Keller near a makeshift memorial for three police officers on July 19 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Joshua Lott/Getty Images

For white people, recognizing that the experience of black people in this country, even today, is different from theirs. And just because they’re not the same as theirs, it doesn’t mean it is not valid.

For many blacks, to realize that a lot of white people aren’t being malicious – they don’t even see their privilege, they don’t even know it’s there.

We all need to seek intentional relationships and conversations with people outside of our race.

Have you created these relationships and conversations in your own life?

I had really great relationships with a few white guys from my church in New Orleans. They were all over the spectrum when it comes to their experience with issues of race. They felt comfortable asking honest questions.

What were some of those honest questions?

After I wrote my book, you would be amazed by how many people said that they were surprised when they met me because they assumed most black people have a criminal record. They were comfortable enough to say stuff like that. And if there are questions about those sorts of things, then you know there’s got to be certain biases and prejudices that we harbor because they have never been debunked.

Sometimes it is hard for us to call out the people around us to stand for justice for everybody. We need to have these interactions, but not absolve people of guilt when addressing these hard issues in an honest fashion.

There is a certain power when white people are willing to stand for something that is not right. Being willing to stand for truth is important for all of us when it comes to issues of race.

And that goes for us, too. We always need to search for truth. Immediately, when there is a black man and a white officer, I automatically make assumptions because of what I know from history. I think a certain thing happened before I know. But I fight that bias.

I am on the side of truth, I am on the side of justice, I am on the side of the gospel that changes people’s heart.

You spent several years in New Orleans and now you’re in Baltimore. Both cities have had violent clashes between the black community and the police. Is there something unique about those cities?

In any city you go to, you are going to find people who get it and want progress and change and whose hearts are open on both sides, and you are going to find people who aren’t.

Mourners attend a candlelight vigil honoring Officer Matthew Gerald on July 18, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Mourners attend a candlelight vigil honoring officer Matthew Gerald on July 18 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

We did a lot in New Orleans and plan to do work in Baltimore, too. We, as a family, want to be a part of the answer wherever we are.

Who are the people that influence you?

First, my father. He shaped me.

Other than him, I like Pastor Tony Evans [a radio host and author]. I just listened to a sermon he gave about race. Sitting in the car, my dad used to play him on the radio and I heard how he engaged the culture from a biblical point of view. I talk to Lecrae [hip-hop artist] every now and then and read some stuff that he writes. And Trip Lee [hip-hop artist] in the music sphere.

Are there politicians that you look to?

I follow Republican Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina. I read his stuff and watch videos he puts out.

And obviously, Dr. [Ben] Carson. I have read all of his books. I had a chance to hang out with him and his wife, Ms. Candy, a few months ago.

I know Dr. Carson has endorsed Donald Trump. Have you made that leap or are you not there yet?

I’m not there yet, bruh.

I respect him, but the way he talks to people that he doesn’t agree with is really disrespectful. And that is dangerous, especially when it comes to issues of race.

[My wife,] Kirsten, grew up in Baton Rouge. She has friends on Facebook calling black people animals and writing screw the black people. And these are people she grew up with.

So who are you going to vote for?

The truth is I haven’t decided on a candidate yet.

I am probably polar opposite from Hillary [Clinton] when it comes to policy issues.

As far as stances on major issues, I probably align more with Trump. But I don’t respect his tone and the way he speaks to people. I don’t respect it at all.

As a conservative and a proud black man, how do you feel about the Obama Presidency.

I feel a sense of pride when I see Obama and his family in the White House. My humanity relishes the reality of a family that looks like mine living in the most important address in America. It’s still unreal for me, even more so for people who are older.

My spiritual man is continually grieved by many of his decisions, though. His disregard for life in the womb and redefinition of marriage are especially difficult to understand given his professed faith. There are other issues I disagree with him on as well. I do know that he genuinely cares for people and is sincere in trying to make Americans’ lives better.

No matter what I think about his policies, I respect the office and the man God has allowed to assume it. We pray for him and his family for wisdom as he makes decisions that will affect all of us.

Domonique Foxworth is a writer at The Undefeated. He is a recovering pro athlete and superficial intellectual.