Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Benjamin Watson’s Wisdom About Ferguson

Amid all the dark news from Ferguson last week, my Acculturated colleague Chelsea Samuelson still managed to find “rays of light and hope” emanating from the rioting. Another bit of inspirational positivity came in the unexpected form of a viral Facebook post from New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, who touched literally hundreds of thousands of readers with his honest introspection about the racially charged controversy.

Following his Monday night game against the Baltimore Ravens, the 33-year-old Watson wrestled with his feelings about the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. Watson decided to write them all down: his anger, frustration, fear, embarrassment, and ultimately his hope. That Facebook post has garnered, as of this writing, more than 732,ooo “likes” and over 404,000 shares.

“I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes,” he began. Then he made an interesting observation about the cultural milieu in which such confrontations take place: “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.”

He went on to talk about his determination to go “the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt” when people view him, a black male, with suspicion. He expressed his embarrassment over the lawless looting that “confirms” and “validates” black stereotypes. And yet he’s 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... And it’s a beautiful thing.”

I can vouch that it is a beautiful thing, because I’ve been around long enough to witness that sea change in race relations – although I also believe those relations in America have dipped in recent years to their lowest ebb since the 1960s. Nevertheless, Watson’s positive perspective is a welcome relief from the relentless race-baiting that goes on in the media.

“The only way we can move forward in any of this is to talk about it and to be honest,” Watson told a sports reporter in the locker room. “When it’s simply hatred, violence, finger-pointing, those sorts of things… and sometimes you feel like doing that, yes, but on the other side, it’s important to think about how you feel, why you feel about it, and take time to listen to how somebody else feels because of their life experiences.” If only Watson’s reasonable voice had a more prominent media presence than that of some of the self-designated civil rights leaders who are exacerbating racial tensions in Ferguson rather than resolving them.

Then Watson turned, in his Facebook post, to a religious interpretation of the controversy and its solution:

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 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, Ben Watson wrote, for incidents like the shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin “is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.” His Christian take on the current racial strife may be unsatisfying for some, but it’s the only perspective I’ve heard that offers hope and understanding for Ferguson.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 12/1/14)