Ben Watson talks systemic racism and ‘Black Lives Matter’

By Vincent Frank

In the wake of last week’s tragedies in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas, the collective consciousness of the United States has been taken to a whole new level.

While some will want to drive a wedge between certain factions of American society after these recent tragedies, the focus of those with an understanding of the issue at hand is to unite, rather than divide.

We can add Baltimore Ravens tight end Ben Watson to the group of individuals speaking up intelligently and realistically regarding the issue of race relations and police brutality in the United States today.

In a piece on ESPN’s The Undefeated, the always engaging Watson shared his thoughts on everything from system-based racism in the United States to the movement known as “Black Lives Matter.”

“Whether it’s an international or domestic terrorist-involved event, problems between police officers and citizens or, now, police officers being massacred, it’s all really sad to watch, and my heart goes out to the families,” Watson wrote.

While some athletes have opted to focus solely on the officer-related deaths in Minnesota and Louisiana, ignoring the five officers killed in Dallas last week, Watson made a point to add that to the broader context of his essay.

Last week saw two African American men killed by police officers — one in Louisiana, and the other in Minnesota. They drew national headlines and created widespread debate within the United States.

Then, following those two tragic incidents, five local Dallas police officers were gunned down by a sniper while attempting to protect “Black Lives Matter” protesters. It was yet another tragic situation that has seemingly brought this nation to its knees.

Touching on that and more, Watson continued.

“When you talk about racism, when you talk about black and white and how we see things totally differently, it’s bad. That’s obvious,” Watson wrote. “We view the world through our own lens and our own biases. How many of us don’t even want to put our feet in someone else’s shoes because we’re so ingrained in what we think? That’s a problem.”

This goes to both sides of the debate, both those protesting police brutality and those questioning the intentions of said protesters. It’s really not a cut and dry issue. Instead, the focus here should continue to be on finding a way to unite, rather than divide.

As Americans coming from all different backgrounds, we are not privy to the issues others from different backgrounds have had to deal with in their own lives.

As a white man growing up in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, I couldn’t even come close to understanding the plight of an African-American man in the deep south. This speaks to Watson’s overall point.

“What we’re saying is that there has been a pattern of things happening that makes black people feel like their lives don’t matter because they’re not treated the way other people are. There’s definitely a disconnect there. And I try to put myself in the shoes of someone who’s white who hears that.”

The aforementioned comment was in response to those who don’t understand the term “Black Lives Matter.” It’s happened on a continual loop, with those not directly impacted by the issue of police brutality indicating that “all lives matter.”

What Watson is attempting to say here is that the movement for racial equality isn’t concluding that white lives don’t matter. Instead, it’s about being treated equally in the eye of law enforcement and society as a whole.

These surely are difficult conversations to have. They can be uncomfortable. Some don’t want to touch on the racial issue we see in today’s society. It’s rather obvious that Watson isn’t afraid to say what he believes — all the while maintaining some sense of balance on the topic.

“With brothers in my church, my white brothers in my church, it has been a lot better, in terms of getting talking and understanding each other. But it’s not going to be perfect. Obviously, I’m not white. I can’t totally understand their feelings because I’m not white,” Watson continued. “They can’t totally understand mine because they’re not black. But if we can start talking and keep talking, we can start to understand each other better, which is the key to coming together.”

It’s in this that the idea of unity can come out in order to help us move forward as a nation, and help those directly impacted by these most recent tragedies feel that the loss of loved ones weren’t in vain.

None of this means that Watson is somehow unable to understand what many have called systemic racism in the United States.

“Not everyone has the same opportunities available to them. Racism is bigger than one person. It’s about a system. And that’s something that’s very complex.”

We definitely recommend you read Watson’s essay on the topic. It’s as thought-provoking as it is profound.

Check it out here.