NFL tight end Benjamin Watson discusses the prejudices common to all people as a result of our environment and experiences, and offers his insights on how we can ease racial tension in our society. (Part 2 of 2)
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Benjamin Watson: I don’t have a tenth of the answers, but I think that that part of the conversation and getting real about race, and kind of in the book, Under Our Skin, and this conversation that we’re having now and the ideas that are going through the listeners’ heads is - um - we need to talk - talk about these things. We need to, at least, put our ideas on the table and say you know what, this might be offensive, but what about this?
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John Fuller: That’s our guest from the last Focus on the Family broadcast, Benjamin Watson. And he’s an author and an NFL tight end for the Baltimore Ravens. He talks about racial tensions in America, and he’s back here again today to help provide some perspective on race issues and point to some solutions that you can implement. Our host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I want to start, I think, in a great place, and that’s with Scripture. But think of it in the context when I read this verse-- think of it in the context of race and racial relations, not husband-wife or family. It’s First Corinthians 13, the love chapter. But listen to it in that context. Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.
And think of that in terms of the commandment there, when it comes to race and loving one another despite our differences. That’s a profound call. And I love that application. I’m sure the theologians will say, it’s not meant in that way. Hey, love is love, man. And that means not just for my immediate family, but for those around me, including our guest, my brother in Christ, Benjamin Watson. I call him my brother in Christ partly because I would love his protection. (LAUGHTER) He’s a tight end in the NFL. The guy is - you are a massive, big guy so...
Benjamin: I work out for a living. (LAUGHTER)
John: I think it may be the...
Benjamin: It’s my job, man. It’s my job.
John: You’re a big guy, too, Jim. I think it may be just the muscles...
Jim: Yeah, that’s...
John: ...That we’re seeing here.
Jim: Yeah, the muscle’s the difference. That’s - uh - thanks a lot. Unfortunately, I may weigh more than you, but it’s not in the right place. (LAUGHTER) It’s not in my biceps (laughter). But, Benjamin, last time was so - so strong and powerful. Thanks for being back with us today to pick up the discussion on race. Your wonderful book Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race And Getting Free From The Fears And Frustrations That Divide Us. This is the kind of discussion I really enjoy having. And some people may say, how does this deal with marriage and parenting? Well, Focus on the Family, one of our areas that we concentrate on is discipleship and how to help you in your faith. So I think this area is directly part of our wheelhouse of talking about race because you need to raise your kids in such a way that they embrace God’s diversity, and that we don’t teach them one person is better than another person simply because of the color of their skin. I mean, when you start thinking about that, it sounds absurd. And, yet, there are still a lot of, um, social stigmas, social institutions, social things that exist that, um, put a barricade up, in terms of having the discussion and loving each other the way the Lord, I think, intends, like that scripture I just read.
John: You know, you can get a copy of Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And as we said last time, go to our Facebook page, and weigh in. Give us some perspective, some reaction to the broadcast. And keep it civil, please.
Jim: (Laughter) It will be, I hope.
Jim: Benjamin, welcome back.
Benjamin: Thank you, good to be with you guys again.
Jim: Hey, let me start here. We left off last time in this neighborhood. And I want to go back there, quickly. I am fascinated by Jesus in front of Pontius Pilate for a lot of different reasons, especially in the Book of John. Each gospel has that account. And there are - you know, some of those gospel accounts have a little more detail than the others. But in John, specifically, it’s where, um, Jesus talks to Pilate about truth - I’ve come to testify to the truth.
And, I find that fascinating. I don’t think it’s superficial. I think the Lord is about truth. And in one way, first and foremost, as believers, it’s knowing our heart, as best as we can. Know those biases that we have. Know the formation of them, the evil of that, especially in this area of race relations, where we, put up obstacles about our ability to communicate with other people that aren’t like us. As Christians, that should not happen.
Jim: And - and we need to know the truth. And I love that admonition of the Lord to say, in essence, to his flock, to his community, be truthful. That’s why I’m here, to testify to the truth. Does that resonate with you?
Benjamin: It - it does. It does. Um, one of the foremost things, I would say, that - that we want to be dedicated to in - in our household is to truth, not necessarily to the - what our group’s supposed to think, not necessarily to what our culture tells us how we should view, politics, or religion, or race, or the person that’s across the street. Our allegiance needs to be to truth. And I think you see that in multiple ways. You see that when we see something that happens on TV that’s racially charged - OK, what’s the truth of the event? We see it when people make claims about inequities-- OK, what’s the truth of it? Is there one? If there is, we need to correct this injustice. If there’s not, then we leave it alone.
Jim: Do you...
Benjamin: But I think also, in the church, a lot of the times, um, we always get in our corners. And the truth becomes what our corner says that we should think about a certain situation or a certain person.
Benjamin: And then, at least the truth allows you - gives you the strength to break free of what your group is thinking, because you want to know - and have allegiance to the truth being God’s Word, and also the truth of whatever is happening, whatever the - the argument, or whatever people are talking about, in that your allegiance is to whatever is true. And you’re not worried - but - but it costs people - but it costs us stuff.
Jim: It does. And...
Benjamin: It’ll cost you something.
Benjamin: It’ll cost you something to stay in the - to stand out and speak for truth.
Jim: And that’s what makes it so difficult. And I think that’s the profoundness of what Jesus was saying there.
Jim: He didn’t say righteousness. He didn’t say justice. He didn’t say love. He said, I came to testify to the truth.
Jim: That’s what catches my attention.
Jim: It’s kind of outside - it’s an outlier to what you think He’s come to do.
Jim: And yet, at the same time, it’s powerful because truth is what it’s about.
Jim: And it - the brighter truth shines, usually the more retreat our flesh has, because we don’t want to face the truth, even as believers. And in this area of racial tension, specifically, I want to start, um, talking about where your grandfather was, and your dad, and their experiences, and then even you as a - I think a 9-year-old boy, and what you experienced - some horrible stuff.
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: But speak, uh, about your grandfather. And what years did he live? When we see born - just to give us some perspective.
Jim: And go through some of those things that you’ve learned within your family tradition, and how you talked about race. What did you hear?
Benjamin: Well, I’m pretty close to both of my grandfathers, um. My mom’s side - he’s from Culpeper, Va. Pop Pop (ph) is what we call him. Um, he grew up - he was born in 1920. And he moved from Culpeper to Washington, D.C., to get out of rural Virginia. A story he used to tell me - and I put it in the book - but there was obviously a swimming pool. He liked to swim, but there was no place for the black kids to swim. And so him, in his arrogance and stupidity, kind of, jumped in the white pool (laughter).
Jim: This is, like, 1929?
Benjamin: This is, like - yeah - this is, like, 1930.
Benjamin: What are you doing, Pop Pop? That’s what I would tell him. What were you thinking? So he - he wanted to swim, he jumped in there. And then basically, they drained the whole pool and, uh, made his parents - who didn’t have much money - pay for it. I don’t quite know how they got the money. I never got that far in the story. But the reason why he moved was, he may not have lived very long, because he was getting threats for different things, for kind of being uppity and being, going against the status quo.
Benjamin: And so he moved to Washington, D.C. and lived with his aunt, and - my mother’s from Washington. She was born there. My other grandfather grew up in Norfolk, Va. That’s where my father’s from. And, a story about him, during World War II - he would work, you know, Norfolk has the largest naval base in the world, I believe. Still - I - I think they still do. And so ships would come in and out. And definitely during the war, uh, he was working unloading ships, loading them with different - different supplies and stuff like that. And, um, you know, he - he - he - he - he would share about having to go to the other side of the base to use the bathroom, where the German soldiers - they would keep German soldiers that were hostages - they would keep them on the base.
And they were allowed to use a bathroom that him, as an American citizen, as someone who was serving our country, couldn’t use. He had to go to the far end of the base. And so stories like that - those are just two. But you could talk to a lot of people and get different things. But stories like that are – it’s part of the understanding, um, growing up, you know, close to your grandparents and hearing the way that they would talk about, you can’t be as good as, you got to be better than. There’s a glass ceiling for you. I hope you break the glass ceiling. But, they will only let you get so far up the totem pole.
Jim: I think the last time we talked that was one of the - and it was early in our conversation, last time.
Jim: ...One of the most profound things that we in the white community don’t wake up every day thinking those thoughts, because they’re not in our face.
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: We don’t - we don’t have to think about ceilings in that same way.
Jim: But, um, at 9 years old - we started last time with a story, you reading a Facebook post that you had toward your daughter, when she was 7, and the pain because she was called an ugly name.
Jim: ...In - at a soccer practice, and you just talked about the tears that you shed that night, thinking of the pain your daughter was now, unfortunately, kind of in this new game, called racial divide.
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: You had that same kind of experience as a young boy.
Jim: What was that experience?
Benjamin: Well, I was young. And I think I was in, maybe fourth grade and, you know, everybody has a fourth-grade crush. (LAUGHTER) I was no different (laughter). I - I went to a Christian school in, uh, in Virginia. And, you know, it’s Valentine’s Day. And, you know, they sell the chocolates. And you can go buy people chocolates and stuff like that. And I remember, you know, I was always - me and another guy were kind of the athletes in the class. And, you know, when you go on a playground, you want to, you know, play well, because that girl might be watching.
Jim: There you go.
Benjamin: Um (laughter) and so I - I - she was somebody who, um, you know, I call her Katie in the book, just to save her identity, if she ever reads the book. But, she was somebody that everybody kind of had a crush on. And I was no different. And I can remember sitting at lunch one day, me and all my friends. In the - in the class, I was the only black kid in the class. There was a - a Japanese kid. And the rest were - were white kids. Some were my good friends. I still talk to some of them to this day. And I remember, um, one of them saying, “you know, Katie would really love you, if you were white.”
Benjamin: And for me, you know that there - you know that, obviously, people are different. We have a different back - different ethnicities. You know, our skin is different tones. Big deal, we’re all in school together. Who cares? We’re playing on the - on - you know, on the - on the play set and playing sports together. It doesn’t matter. But, at that point kind of, for me, was really the, oh, my gosh. This is - this -
Jim: What did that communicate to you?
Benjamin: It communicated to me that I was inferior.
Benjamin: That, although I had all this stuff going for me, although I made good grades, although...
Jim: Great athlete.
Benjamin: I was - you know, athlete - and I think I was pretty good looking, um. (LAUGHTER) It - it communicated to me that there was something that - that, uh, was different about me. And because of that, I was an - I was an outcast.
Benjamin: And so, I think from that point on, it kind of turned how I - it turned my relationship with a lot of white kids in my class, especially boys. I wanted to be better than them.
Benjamin: You know, when they went and did something, I - I wanted to do it better.
Jim: OK, let me ask you...
Benjamin: ...Because I felt like I had to do stuff better in order to receive the same type of approval.
Jim: You know, let me - let me share a story with you and have you react to this. I remember I - I did the international work here at Focus for a lot of years. And it was probably the highlight of my time here at Focus, really, because you travel around the world meeting different cultures, being in different cultures.
Jim: One of the assignments I was developing Focus on the Family - South Africa, which is a thriving office today, by God’s grace. And Graeme Schnell, the director there, is doing a fantastic job along with the staff. They really are. But this was in the beginning. And it was ‘92. It was before De Klerk had handed over power to Mandela. And so the tension on the street - and I’m a California kid.
Jim: You know, I’m saying hi to everybody. But there was a real tension.
Jim: Black and white. And, you know, I kind of understood it. But I always felt - and maybe it’s foolish, but I always felt, hey, we’re just people. Why can’t we love each other and talk to each other and smile at each other? I didn’t understand it.
Jim: I was naive. But here’s what happened. I had two of those trips in that kind of tension-filled environment - walking down the street, eyes not connecting, body language being very hostile between white and black. And then the vote happened. And Nelson Mandela was voted in. And I remember talking to a black gentleman down there - stranger - I just met him on the street.
But the whole atmosphere had changed. There was much more joy in people’s hearts. There was much more eye contact. There was laughter on the street, when you would walk - both black and white. And I asked this man - I said, what is different? And he looked at me like, how could you even ask that question? He said, dignity. Wow.
Jim: A one-word lesson. He had no dignity before, that he felt. But, now I can vote. But that powerful word of dignity - is that one of the things that still is a pain-full word for America?
Jim: Is dignity there, or are we still striving to find dignity?
Benjamin: One thing my father told me - when he was in high school, he said that a coach, I think, told him - he said, Ken Watson, I would never want to be you. And my dad said, why? He said, well, because you have to know everything about me. I don’t have to know anything about you. This culture’s white. And for a lot of black people, we have to know everything about white culture. That’s how we survive.
John: What do you mean by that, Benjamin, practically?
Benjamin: What I mean - what I mean by that is, practically, we learn European history. We learn about the white forefathers. We learn white customs. White images of beauty are what are considered the norm. The list goes on and on. And so, there’s still a feeling of being kind of lost. And maybe it’s dignity. Identity is another one.
Benjamin: Um, when you have a people collectively whose - we just had a family reunion, and we traced our family back to 1860, which doesn’t seem very far, but it’s far for a lot of black people.
Benjamin: And when all that is erased - you know, you can say it was, you know, a hundred-plus years ago, but really, your identity - it really is something that can be passed down generation to generation. So the dignity piece, the identity piece, the understanding that you’re kind of - you still feel like kind of foreigners in the land, sometimes - um, that is a very real, I guess, underlying feeling for many black people in this country.
John: Benjamin Watson is our guest today on Focus on the Family. And we’re talking about many of the things he’s touched on in his book, Under Our Skin. And we’ve got that for you, and a free audio download from Dr. Tony Evans about seeing race through Jesus’ eyes. It’s all at: focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call us - 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Um, with this last portion of time, we need to identify, how do we move forward?
Benjamin: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim: And, you know, the book is filled with great ideas on how to practically move forward in the dialogue, the discussion, the understanding - all the good things we need to do. Um, you have a friend Chris that you use as an illustration of having dialogue...
Jim: ...Which is a good place to start - what we’re doing today.
Benjamin: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim: And what you described a while ago in terms of how um, fear or tension - how we retreat to that so quickly. I mean, that’s why, when you start to have the discussion, fwoop (ph), fences go up...
Jim: ...Right? I mean, it’s amazing. Rather...
Be njamin: Fences and defenses (laughter).
Jim: Right - and defenses. Being an offensive player, I get it.
Jim: But the - but the idea that - let’s lower the emotion about it and just try to understand.
Jim: I mean, isn’t that the key?
Jim: And try to feel what you feel - and you feel what I feel. And empathize in that way to better understand where we’re at. And I think you do a great job in the book with that. I do appreciate that because I think when you say, you don’t need to feel guilty, Jim, just because you’re white.
Jim: And I thank you for that because that’s a problem. I mean, I think people do feel a sense of guilt. And what do I do?
Jim: And we need responsibility in the culture, the black culture, the white culture. We need to be responsible people.
Jim: So I appreciate all those messages. But you and Chris get into it from time to time.
Jim: So tell us about some of those more profound discussions that you’ve had.
Benjamin: Well, definitely. You know, Chris is a friend. You know, he’s a little older than me - a little more life experience. But he kind of represents a lot of what I feel are common - maybe misconceptions or feelings that many of the white community have, whether it’s stuff about - we’ve had conversations about affirmative action.
And why are all the black people getting this? Like, really? Well, it’s the white women that really benefit the most from affirmative action. Then we kind of go back and forth. And, well, my daughter’s trying to go to college. Or this - whatever it may be. People on welfare.
Well, there’s - you know - so we have these conversations. And I think one of the solutions that points to it is having people who are different than you, but that you respect and respect you. And you can have a conversation - an honest one, that’s intentional. Because, these conversations won’t happen, if they’re not intentional. You can go to work and have a rainbow of people at your work and never have an intentional conversation about anything other than, how are we going to put these bricks together to build this building? Or whatever...
Jim: Just polite conversation.
Benjamin: ...Or whatever your occupation is.
Benjamin: You know, you have to go out of your way sometimes. Um, also, another thing that, you know, Chris and I - you know, obviously we both have kids. But how do we, uh, teach our kids about race? And one thing in our house is, we always try to be honest with them. But we also point them to their own failings, to their own shortcomings and their own need for Christ - that they should not look at themselves better than anyone, because of their talents, because of their skin tone, or because of where they live, or how much money they think they have - whatever it may be - or their education, but that they’re in the same need of Christ as much as somebody else across town.
And we try to keep hammering that home to them, because we don’t want them to feel inferior, number one, because, as Chaplain Black said one time in his prayer - that - that Christ shatters the inferiority complex, but he also shatters the superiority complex.
Jim: Should be.
Benjamin: Both of them.
Benjamin: And that’s of vital importance, because my kids, just because there are certain systems and there are certain things that are systemic and institutional, I’m not going to tell you to not strive as hard as you can. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t be certain things just because of these obstacles. So, as you mentioned, there’s a personal responsibility piece where you don’t succumb to the outside pressure. You continue to try to achieve. But, also, you recognize that there are these larger influences that have to be addressed, as well. So - but, again, going back to those - those conversations, I think that that is a great place to start. And the living room is as important as the courtroom when it comes to change.
Jim: Wow. Think of that. That’s a powerful statement.
Benjamin: Our families - our kids - how we talk about people that aren’t like us. The looks that we make, subconsciously, when something comes on TV that rubs us the wrong way.
Benjamin: The conversation we have on the phone. We think they’re not looking. We’re talking - listening - we’re talking to someone else. Many of us are living room racists. And they get called out. He got called out by his daughter - being a living room racist, because the opinions that they had - that you have privately are racist, and you don’t even realize it. And so part of it is identifying that, I think...
Benjamin: ...And having the conversation. Then the next part moves to action, I believe.
Jim: So let’s get to some practical solutions, things that you’re doing like reaching out. What are some things that we could do in our community? You’re talking to, you know, probably a couple million people right now.
Jim: So we can go back to our mostly white churches, mostly black churches on Sunday. What would you like to see? What would be the ultimate thing, if we could do these three things? Race relations in the U.S. would be so much better.
Jim: What are they?
Benjamin: The number one thing we have to do is pray. And - and that’s being intentional, as well - praying.
Jim: Specifically on this issue.
Benjamin: Specifically - specifically on this issue.
Jim: How would you pray? How do you pray to the Lord in this regard?
Benjamin: The first thing you do is you pray, Lord, reveal to me where I’m biased, where I have prejudice, where I have racism. Reveal to me, Lord, what you want me to do as far as bridging this divide and correcting. Forgive me of places where I have mis-stepped. Allow me to honestly and continually be keenly aware of attitudes that come up in me that aren’t Christ-like - because it’s a process. This is - just like with a lot of different sin, this isn’t a one-time, fix-all type thing, I don’t think, for most of us, myself included.
Benjamin: It is a continual being aware, being sensitive to - ugh, that’s not right. Ugh, I looked at this person this way. Ugh, I said this. Ugh, I - you know, it’s about being sensitive to what - praying that the Spirit makes you very sensitive to that.
Benjamin: So - so number one thing is prayer. And, also, collectively, you know, with your family - how do you lead your family in this way? Number two - and we’ve talked about it before - is, the interpersonal relationships. It is maybe there’s a time where you need to, on purpose, go out to dinner with somebody that’s not like you, heaven forbid.
Jim: (Laughter) I love that challenge.
Benjamin: ...Because many of us live in our own silos.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Benjamin: So - No. 1 is - is prayer - individually, collectively. No. 2 is - is those intentional conversations, those lunch meetings, those dinner meetings, those - those conversations at work, those conversations at church, um, at the kids’ soccer games, whatever it may be - but building a relationship where you - you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes without being offended.
Benjamin: And then thirdly, I - I think that - in the idea of both/and - and I talk about that in the book that, you know, specifically about, you know, you can be sad about someone dying, but also realize that, OK, was this right or wrong?
The idea of both/and is that there is an individual responsibility for black folks. And we can’t use what’s happened to us as an excuse. We can’t use, what’s happened to our parents, or even to us personally, as an excuse to keep on going and not achieving and not living as we know we should be.
Benjamin: ...That we can’t use what’s happened in the past, or even yesterday, as an excuse not to be a father to your kid, or not to get married to the mother. We can’t use that as an excuse. You have a decision that you can make on your own. So, it’s calling out the - the things that are wrong in the black community, as well.
Jim: Well, and it’s - it’s difficult.
Benjamin: I’m an equal-opportunity caller-out.
Jim: Right. But you know, frankly, that’s hard to do unless you’re in the black community today.
Benjamin: True, I wouldn’t advise you to do it.
Jim: And - correct.
Jim: And it - and we need to be mindful of that.
Jim: ...That - that - that - that’s, you know, that’s a sensitivity issue.
Jim: ...You know, for me to go in and say, here’s all the things you need to do better.
Jim: It’s not going to go down well.
Jim: And let me say, as a white man, we need to be able to say, understand and empathize with what our black brothers and sisters...
Jim: ...Are feeling and - and going through.
Jim: When you have to have “the talk” with your teen boys - if you get pulled over, this is what you gotta do. Make sure you don’t provoke an officer.
Benjamin: ...Understanding, empathizing with the continual social, systemic forces that, in many ways, um, are keeping a large section of the black community in - in a form of oppression.
Jim: Right. These are great thoughts. And we are scratching the surface, here, Benjamin. I mean, this is awesome. I just want to say thank you.
Benjamin: Thank you.
Jim: ...For being bold enough to write the book Under Our Skin, to be here at Focus on the Family, to talk about this openly. I just - I really appreciate it. And, I pray that the Lord continues to bless you in this area. I mean you’re a big-time, 14-year veteran in the NFL. But I see the Lord using you in so many bigger fields, if I may say that. And, I think you’re just doing a great job articulating these observations and holding to the truth. And I love ya, as a brother in Christ.
Benjamin: You, too.
Jim: And I just really appreciate what the Lord has done in your life, and the way you have formulated these thoughts and these ideas. Well done.
Benjamin: Thank you.
Jim: And, um, I would encourage everyone to get a copy of Benjamin’s book Under Our Skin. Do something to better understand what we’ve been talkin’ about these last couple of days. That’s a place to start. And then talk to people, develop friendships outside of your safe zone. And start the dialogue. Talk to people about what they feel where they’re at. And let them ask you hard questions. And you ask them hard questions.
I think that is a great place to start. And, uh, I would encourage you to get the book. And get it through Focus for a gift of any amount. If you can’t afford it, we’ll find a way to get it in your hands. Just contact us. And, let us get this to you. And John, you’ve got the details on that.
John: Well, yeah, I’ve said this a few times during the past couple of days but go ahead and get the book from us at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Give us a call, 800-A-FAMILY and make sure you stop by the Facebook page for some of that ongoing conversation and share some practical insights that you’ve gotten from the broadcast.
And do join us next time when empty-nester Terrie Morrow shares her remarkable story of how she and her husband, Cal, adopted a young, hurting girl out of foster care.
Terrie Morrow: Initially, I was angry. When it came that way. I was angry with God, I was angry with our circumstance, I felt like we had been cursed-- but now we’ve gone from feeling cursed to feeling chosen.
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Benjamin WatsonView Bio
Benjamin Watson is a tight end for the New Orleans Saints. His NFL career began in 2004 when he was drafted by the New England Patriots. He received a Super Bowl ring in his rookie season and appeared in another Super Bowl in 2007. In 2010, Benjamin joined the Cleveland Browns and led the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He signed a three year contract with the New Orleans Saints in 2013 and joined the Ravens in 2016. Off the field, Benjamin stays busy with his foundation, One More, his growing family and the NFL Players Association, where he serves on the Executive Committee. He is also an NFL spokesman for the All Pro Dad Campaign. Benjamin has authored two books, Under Our Skin and The New Dad's Playbook. Learn more about Benjamin by visiting his website, www.thebenjaminwatson.com.