I’ll be honest. I’ll be the first to cancel a business or person if I think they’re racist.
H&M? Still canceled.
Dove? Dove who?
But I know this outrage culture that lasts for 10 mins and gains a quick hashtag on twitter isn’t the most effective. Neeson deserves to stay because this country is absolutely drowning in subtle, indirect, covert, ‘unconscious’ racism and discrimination. Everyone wants to pretend they’re not racist, and that they’ve never had a racist thought in their life.
Funny enough, many people will still claim that ‘racism is over’ or we’re in a post-racial society. I’m sure they genuinely believe this, and I guess they kind of need to as well, as this mentality allows them to avoid the uncomfortable confrontation of themselves and the privileges they receive as an outcome of this system. But it’s not true. Neeson admitting that he went hunting for an innocent black person to gain retribution for the crime committed by a completely different black person is finally confirmation of the reality of the depth of the disease that plagues our society. This incident happened only a few decades ago; it is clear we are not as post-racial as some would like to believe.
For those who may not be aware, Liam Neeson, whilst filming an interview for his upcoming film said that when he was told by a woman close to him that she was raped, he asked if she knew the offender, which she didn’t. He then asked what race he was, and she answered that he was Black. Neeson then admitted to going out daily with a weapon for a week looking for any ‘black bastard’ to kill. Now, I’m sure we can all agree that asking what race this person was is kind of a weird question. When a close friend of mine tells me they’ve been assaulted, my first instinct is to check in with that person’s mental and emotional health and offer support. However, the racist trope of black men on the hunt to savage defenseless white women is not new; Emmett Till’s story speaks volumes on how far people will go to ‘protect’ white women. Secondly, why or how Neeson felt it was his right to seek revenge on behalf of the woman, who was actually the victim, is beyond me. His gender may have had a part to play as well as his racist prejudices; the sociological effects of women being men’s property some hundreds of years ago are still being felt (as I wouldn’t feel as though it were even up to me to feel this angry, let alone get revenge on their behalf). What Neeson is guilty of is allowing his own feelings of powerlessness to get in the way of the actual support he might’ve been able to give to that woman.
What Neeson isn’t guilty of, however, is valuing the protection of his reputation and self-belief of being a good person over the need to have this conversation. Most people do this. Any growth they may have had in understanding the plight of others’ and becoming more ‘woke’ will usually be hidden in the shadows; everyone wants to pretend they were born with a thorough understanding of race and race relations. If we’re being honest with ourselves and each other – we all had to go through that process of unlearning internalized racism, and it should still be a process we are committing to. We cannot become complacent; the moment we do is the moment we also become complicit in a system that is consistently working to disadvantage people of colour. Not being racist is no longer enough; in the face of such inequality, we must become anti-racist (actively working against racism). In a system and society that breeds this thought, we cannot be surprised at Neeson’s actions and anyone who is may need to do some more research into race relations in Britain in the 70’s and 80’s.
Neeson is still on this journey, and I have no idea how far he has come. Putting aside Neeson’s feelings, the reason I think Neeson should stay is because he was able to admit to his faults and accept the racism staring back at him. If we encouraged white people to do the same, the ever elusive ‘conversation on race’ that always gets sidelined in favour of topics like black on black violence or drill music, may actually be able to happen. If white people were as honest as Neeson was about their past racist motivations and thoughts, we could finally have an honest conversation on race that this country so desperately needs and craves. However, people would much rather point the finger at overt, evident racism instead of reflecting on the effects of subtle but even more damaging institutional and supposedly unconscious, and their own part to play in this. Piers Morgan is a prime suspect for this; how dare he have the gall to call out Neeson for ‘Klu Klux Klan’ behaviour when he’s an avid supporter of President Trump. His outrage makes it seem as if Neeson is just one of a few ‘bad eggs’ instead of admitting what the black and BAME communities have been saying for the longest time; this is not unusual. This is common and happening, even to this day. People just don’t admit it. I don’t know about you but I’d much rather fight the devil I know rather than the devil I don’t.
So, that’s my piece on Neeson. Sure he’s a shitty person for ever even having these thoughts, but I can put a little respect on his name for at least being an upfront and honest shitty person.
Written by Roma Fiseha, SU BAME Community Organiser