Liam Neeson has maintained that he is not a racistYoutube

When a Hollywood actor who has been nominated for three Golden Globes and an Oscar decided, on air, to come clean about his younger self having roamed the streets for a week with a thick heavy stick looking for any black man to provoke him into murder, it was bound to cause waves and raise more than a few questions. For Liam Neeson, it must have been the biggest week of his year so far, though not in any way he would have imagined. It was in an interview for the Independent, where the discussion topic should have been Neeson’s newest film Cold Pursuit, that the actor admitted that after hearing his female friend had been raped by a black man, he had sought provocation into violence from any black man he could find ‘so that [he] could kill him’. Voices from around the world reacted with horror and bewilderment at the fact that a celebrity of such calibre had planned indiscriminate racial violence against any ‘black bastard’. Perhaps even more baffling was that he would admit to racist action now, of his own accord and in a deliberately public context.

“Neeson has not acknowledged the gravity of his admissions”

Assuming Neeson would have pre-empted the media storm he created is to assume that he saw his actions as racist and thus unacceptable. But he has denied allegations of racism. According to him, the reason why his actions were ‘horrible’ is that he had pursued violence against another man, incited by something ‘primal’ that Neeson felt controlled him as soon as his female friend told him that she had been raped. Wishing to protect and defend, he fell victim to this instinct for revenge. It chose him, not he it. Gary Younge has drawn parallels to a historical white male mentality that drove centuries of American lynch mobs to take it upon themselves to avenge the black men they accused of sexually assaulting white women. Despite Neeson’s assertion of shame, there is a note of self-justification in his speech, as he said, “We all racial profile.”

It is painfully clear listening to his interview with the Independent that Neeson has not acknowledged the gravity of his admissions. He talks as if these unassailable desires for racial violence, a ‘need for revenge’, are a common weakness. It’s almost as if he’s asking for empathy. “I was hoping some black bastard would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So I could kill him”. It seems to me that whatever lesson Neeson claims to have learnt from this episode is seriously lacking. His way of addressing the root issues, apart from purging his conscience in a public interview, was through power walking and religious confession. These target anger management and a revenge mentality, true, but where’s the anti-racism effort?

This is what is truly enlightening about the Neeson scandal. Racism still exists in the UK, and it still exists among the celebrity elite as among any other group, but, crucially, it is not recognised for what it is by its perpetrators. There have been many who have insisted Neeson deserve a pat on the back for his courage to admit to his troubling thoughts. How can we congratulate the man for admitting his guilt when his efforts are not driven by an acknowledgement of his racism? Neeson chose now to talk about the issue because his anecdote offered a fitting parallel to the themes of revenge in the movie. If he had felt guilty of racism, rather than just ashamed of his desire for indiscriminate violence against an individual of a certain group, and if he really did want to indicate his personal growth, he would not have denied the allegations of racism he received.

“The press and social media have mutually fostered an environment in which the topic of racism is skirted around”

Perhaps there is something valuable in this scandal. Neeson is not a beacon of inspiration for other individuals to address their subconscious racism, given that, when praised for talking openly on the matter, he did not acknowledge his own. Even so, we can learn from Neeson’s voluntary myopia by taking a minute to reflect on our own warped vision of 21st century race relations. Why are we so shocked that this could happen? Liberal thinkers are so intent on proving that we Britain has dealt with its racism that uncomfortable truths, highlighted in episodes like this one, are too often ignored. Hearing his case has forced us to look racism in the face. Neeson’s traits are not unique, but his willingness to speak on them as a celebrity is.


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Whether conscious of the implications or not, by admitting to a week-long mission to kill a black man, Neeson successfully rattled the cage. The press and social media have mutually fostered an environment in which the topic of racism is skirted around. Perhaps, ironically, this prevents an honest evaluation of the prevalence of racism in Britain that would make us better equipped to combat it. If Liam Neeson, after all this, admits to his past racism, that would be commendable. As it stands, though, he has not yet earned my forgiveness.

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