musings, racism

Repost: Is Liam Neeson guilty of a “hate crime”?

Here’s a repost of an article I wrote for my Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife. It originally appeared February 6, 2019. I’m sharing it again, because last night, I watched Liam Neeson’s Taken series– three movies worth– because Bill had to work very late. As I watched Liam’s character, Bryan Mills, kicking the crap out of bad guys in a very satisfying way, I was reminded of this post I wrote just before I had to shut down access to my old blog. I think it’s worth another look.

I believe that old song in Avenue Q.  I think everyone’s a little bit racist, even though some people believe that you can only be racist if you’re a member of the “dominant” racial group.  Actor Liam Neeson is a White man who recently confessed that after a friend was violently raped by a Black man, he prowled the streets with a club, looking for a Black man to beat up.  He said he was actually “hoping” to be approached by someone giving him an excuse to beat the shit out of them with a “cosh” (British word for club).

Neeson’s violent revenge fantasy occurred about forty years ago.  He never did beat anyone up. He was simply very angry about the violent crime committed against his friend and he wanted to avenge her.  He says he’s ashamed of how he reacted to the rape and sorry for having those violent impulses to hurt other people.

Liam Neeson talks about that controversy from 40 years ago. I think he should be commended for his honesty and integrity.

Naturally, the papers have been having a field day with the story.  Lots of people seem to think Mr. Neeson needs a good public flogging for something that happened 40 years ago.  I don’t condone Neeson’s violent impulses to hurt just anyone who happened to be Black.  However, I do feel like he should be commended for his honesty.  It’s not an easy thing to do, admitting those feelings publicly, as hateful and hurtful as they are.  It’s awful to hear about them, but it does get people thinking and talking.  Is that a bad thing? By the way, I HIGHLY recommend listening to Neeson speak in the above video. He makes a lot of sense.

Neeson eventually came to the conclusion that violence begets violence.  He found more constructive ways to deal with his rage, to include power walking for two hours a day.  He spoke to his friends and a priest.  He also said that if the man had not been Black, he still would have had those same feelings of primal rage and wanting to get revenge. In this case, it was apparently a Black man who perpetrated the crime against his friend.  It could have been anyone, though.  Also, consider that this happened in Northern Ireland forty years ago, during “The Troubles”.  It was a pretty violent time all around, particularly between English people and Irish people.  I’m sure that contributed to Neeson’s state of mind.

In my opinion, Liam Neeson’s situation isn’t really the same as Governor Ralph Northam’s situation in Virginia.  He’s under fire for having been in a racist photo 35 years ago.  Governor Northam is in a leadership position, though, and is a physician.  The photo was taken when he was in medical school.  And it had nothing to do with being justifiably angry.  That photo was about simple mockery of people not like him.  To my knowledge, it wasn’t prefaced by violent crime or anything that would cause a person to feel “passionate”.  It was just plain stupidity.

I can understand being so angry that one becomes blinded by rage.  I don’t condone acting on that rage. It turns out, Neeson never did. He never hurt or killed anyone in reaction to his friend’s rape.  Soon afterward, he was ashamed of himself and took active steps to mend his ways. Forty years later, people want to cancel him for simply admitting that he had these dark thoughts after a dear friend was raped.

Is it awful that Neeson had those violent and racially biased fantasies?  Yes, I believe it is, although I think having them is pretty “human”.  Is it awful that he publicly admits to having those fantasies?  I don’t think so.  Why punish the man for simply being honest?  At least he’s worked on his issues.  At least he acknowledges them.  Apparently, that incident from Neeson’s past has also been used as a tool in his movies, like Taken and Ransom.  That just goes to show that even the worst impulses can be used for something positive if we’re careful.

Another perspective from the other side of the pond. Quite interesting and refreshing.

I do think people should be able to live down the things they did in the past, particularly if they acknowledge them and show that they’ve tried to make amends. We are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done or said or thought… or, at least I believe we should be. I think Neeson has taken steps to make amends for having those violent, racist impulses over forty years ago.  Northam, to my admittedly limited knowledge, has also apparently tried to change his ways.  He supposedly has a good reputation as a physician and as a governor, aside from this unfortunate relic from his past. 

Of course, now there’s been talk of a sexual assault claim against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who would be poised to take Northam’s place if he resigns.  Personally, I think the hullabaloo in Virginia is more about people upset about Northam’s comments on abortion and desperate folks wanting to get the Democrats out of office in Virginia.  The timing of this is just too funky.

As for Liam Neeson… I think people should stop and think before they pick up their torches and pitchforks.  Should we be more concerned about people who are honest about having racist feelings or those who hide them?  Truly, I think everyone has prejudices.  No one is immune to preconceived notions about other people.  I, for one, think Neeson was brave to share his story, knowing how public backlash can happen and what it can lead to.  It’s good to think and talk about these things.  But then, Liam Neeson is probably in a position where he can talk about these things and not fear losing everything.

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