It’s spring, and when I was in high school, that meant taking field trips. When I was a senior in high school, my government teacher, Mr. Eccleston, took us on a trip to Richmond, Virginia. This was something he did every year, although I’m pretty sure our class was the last one to go to the Virginia State Penitentiary. That’s because they closed the “Pen” in 1991, and tore it down. Here’s a repost of my 2013 blog post about my experience visiting Virginia’s old state prison… Meanwhile, I’m still thinking about today’s fresh topic.
Most high school kids go off to some interesting or exotic place when they become seniors. I guess, in my case, the place my senior class went for the “senior trip” was exotic and interesting enough, though it wasn’t an overnight trip. My senior year of high school was actually full of interesting field trips, to include a trip to a local medical school, where my biology classmates and I saw cadavers. We also went caving, and visited the National Zoo in Washington, DC. I skipped at least three other field trips because I didn’t have the money to go. But probably the most interesting of all the trips we took was the one that took us to the State Penitentiary in Virginia.
The Virginia State Pen was a very old structure that had received its first prisoners in 1800. If you click the link, you can see some photos of the place, which was eventually demolished. It sat next to the James River in downtown Richmond, Virginia.
In the spring of 1990, when we had our field trip, the Pen was about to be closed down. There were still inmates there when we came to visit the place. I remember how my classmates and I were each frisked, then shown into this huge cell block that had several tiers of tiny cells. The place was painted light blue and there was a smell of human filth, sweat, and detergent in the air. The building was obviously very antiquated and unpleasant. It definitely needed to be torn down or renovated.
Gazing up, I could see the huge windows allowed birds to come in. They flew near the ceiling and probably mocked the inmates with their ability to come and go at will. On the floor, I spied a dead mouse that looked like it had been there for awhile. A heavily muscled guy with a mullet wore a wide leather belt with a set of handcuffs prominently displayed in a case as he led us through the facility. He didn’t wear a uniform, though he obviously worked at the prison.
The inmates were in a different part of the prison when we visited. I remember looking at the first big cell block, which was apparently vacated as inmates were transferred to other facilities. We also visited death row, which had also been vacated. Some inmates were in a yard nearby as we made our way to the death house. They shouted and jeered at us. I remember the death row cells were a whole lot larger than the ones in the cell block. They had bars all around them and a lone television set was mounted on a pole that would have allowed all of the inmates to watch it.
At the end of the hall was the electric chair, which Virginia used to execute a lot of men until lethal injection became the preferred way to put condemned people to death. Several of my classmates sat on the big oak chair, outfitted with heavy leather straps with big metal buckles. I remember one teacher actually pretended to strap a couple of students in. Back then, it was kind of a joke, but today, it seems kind of inappropriate and not that funny. Virginia is a notorious death penalty state. (ETA: Thanks to former Governor Ralph Northam, the death penalty was abolished in Virginia last year. I never thought I’d see the day.)
I remember after we saw the penitentiary, we went to Virginia Commonwealth University for lunch. Two of my sisters are VCU graduates, so I was somewhat familiar with the place. By then, I knew I was headed to Longwood for college.
It was an eerie day… and probably the day that I first started to have ambivalent feelings about the death penalty.
Edited to add in 2022: In his amazing talk in the above video, Dale Brumfield, talks about the kinds of crimes that would land people in the penitentiary. At one point, he talks about how Black men could be arrested and imprisoned for being caught on someone else’s property. They could get up to ten years for just appearing to LOOK like they were going to commit theft. As he was talking about that, I couldn’t help but think about the Ahmaud Arbery case, and how he was gunned down by three White men who thought he was a thief. It’s so sad that we haven’t evolved much since the early days of the Virginia Penitentiary’s history.
Bill and I woke up to the typical reactions to the results of Election Day. It seems like in the past few years, those reactions have become ever more extreme. It used to be that the candidates running weren’t often that wildly different from one another. Or, maybe that’s just how it seemed to me, back in the day. I think I started noticing the stress of elections in the year 2000, when George W. Bush became president. At that time, I was a Republican voter most of the time. It was what I knew, and it didn’t seem like it was so entrenched with evangelical Christians. I remember when Al Gore insisted that the election was “stolen”. After that, things got wilder and wilder come election time.
Donald Trump ruined the conservative viewpoint for me. I will never look at that party the same way as I used to… and it’s pretty doubtful that I will ever vote for a Republican again. Anyway, Texas didn’t have any really big issues this year, and I don’t really think of it as my home, anyway. I lived there for a year and am legally a resident, even though I live in Germany. Virginia is my home, and it’s sad, but not surprising, that Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race. I don’t think Terry McAuliffe was a very popular candidate, and Virginia is a very conservative southern state, even if it has been going “blue” recently.
I still have a lot of friends and relatives in Virginia, and most of them still vote Republican, no matter what. So it doesn’t shock me that they flipped back to red. Personally, I like Ralph Northam, but I can see how some of his decisions were extremely unpopular with Virginians. Plus, there was that troublesome past of his, posing in blackface for a med school yearbook photo in 1984. People want to hang on to that issue, not taking account in the fact that Northam was a young man at the time, times were less politically correct, and sometimes, people do change their attitudes, opinions, and behaviors.
However… some people are NOT capable of change. Narcissistic people, like Donald Trump, never change, and usually get much worse as they age. A year after the presidential election, Trump is still trying to fight the results. People are still spun up over him, and the audacity he showed when he baselessly accused the election of being rigged against him. The reason he did that is because, as a narcissist, he is incapable of losing gracefully. And that is one of his worst flaws, because it means that he’ll do anything to win.
Unfortunately, a lot of Americans enjoy that in a leader… and they don’t realize that that kind of bravado is only great until it’s directed at them. Americans love the theatrics, especially when it involves some guy who they think is just like them. But he’s not like them at all, and wouldn’t deign to give them the time of day. And he certainly doesn’t care about America. He cares about himself, and himself alone. I wish more people could see this truth and stop allowing toxic leaders like Donald Trump to influence them, and their choices for leaders.
But people are still spun up on Trump, and they hate seeing things like Confederate statues, erected during the Jim Crow era, taken down. They hate being told they have to be vaccinated against a deadly virus. But they don’t mind forcing women to give birth, even as they take away any resources that might make family planning and management more feasible for parents. They scoff at the idea that people should have any support from the government for the good of the community. It’s every man or woman for themselves… unless the woman happens to be pregnant.
I haven’t been in the United States in seven years… and I can’t say I miss it very much. It’s changed a lot since I was a young woman. There’s a lot more violence and polarization, and people aren’t really free to live as they wish. I used to be a lot more conservative about a lot of issues (although I have ALWAYS been pro-choice), but I don’t see myself going back down that path. Being abroad has changed me irrevocably.
I am glad to be away from the United States today. It’s good to be in Slovenia, a place that used to be forbidden to Americans. It’s so beautiful here, as the featured photo suggests… I’m not sure what we’re going to do today, since it’s raining. Maybe we’ll go to the Aquapark. In any case, I’m going to try to ignore the elections. I’m sure many people I know in Virginia are delighted to see a new Republican governor. I just hope he doesn’t ruin everything good that was accomplished during Northam’s reign. And… I do think Northam did a lot of good things, even if he wasn’t even close to perfect.
This morning, I read a headline in the Daily Press, the newspaper that serves the Tidewater area of Virginia, the place where I was born and raised. The headline was about Virginia’s gubernatorial race. This year, Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, will step down as governor, and someone else will take his place. The newspaper was reporting on how the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, “dodged” a question about vaccination, which drew criticism from Democrats.
I know a lot of people hope to see Glenn Youngkin beat the Democrat candidate, former Governor Terry McAuliffe. This is because a lot of people from Virginia don’t like Ralph Northam, or Democrats in general. A lot of people don’t like Mr. McAuliffe, either. I come to this conclusion based on comments I’ve read online, but also because I am from Virginia and I still know a lot of people there. Plenty of folks think Democrats are just plain evil. On the flip side, plenty of people also think Republicans are evil.
Even though Virginia’s political leanings have recently shifted from red to blue, there are still many Republicans in Virginia, particularly in the area where I grew up. And, just as they might choose a favorite sports team, people in Virginia have a tendency to choose sides in politics. I suppose it makes things simpler for them. On the other hand, it also makes our society more divided. I’ve noticed that people will often write off people solely based on their political preferences. There’s little thinking or discussion involved.
I didn’t read the article in the Daily Press about the governor’s race. Doing so would have required turning on my VPN, since the Daily Press, like so many other U.S. based newspapers, has made itself unavailable to readers based in Europe. We have a pesky data privacy law over here with which a lot of American papers can’t be bothered to comply.
I did, however, read some of the comments on the Daily Press article. Someone lamented about how anti-vaxxers were selfish and rebellious. Below is a screenshot.
I had to laugh at the guy who called Biden’s administration a “pos” (piece of shit), and wanted to know if the commenter he was responding to would jump off a bridge if Biden asked him to. Did this guy have the same mindset in January 2021, when Trump called on citizens to storm the Capitol? Are most people really like this? Do they really have no ability to think for themselves? I mean, there are some conservative ideas that I can get behind. And there are some liberal ideas that I like. Why does it have to be “either/or”? Why can’t we work together to make policies that suit the majority of people? Are there any moderates left in the world? Or are they all just keeping quiet?
I attempted to tell Bill about the comments I was reading, but he suddenly interrupted me with thoughts of his own. Granted, they were thoughts that were on topic, which was a plus. However, it was pretty clear that he hadn’t really been listening to me. A few seconds after I started speaking, he began formulating a response. In doing so, he missed part of my message.
I was immediately annoyed by the interruption and said so. I love Bill very much, but he has a terrible habit of interrupting me when I’m mid sentence. He also has a tendency of speaking to me when I’m engaged in something else, like reading, watching a video, or playing a game. Consequently, I often have to ask him to repeat himself or “hold that thought” until I’m ready to actively listen to him.
I often feel frustrated, because I can’t finish a thought or I get distracted from something on which I’d been concentrating. I have kind of a short attention span, so when people interrupt me, I tend to forget what I was saying. I also grew up in an environment where people didn’t really care what I thought and happily told me so… and in fact, I was labeled “arrogant” when I did express opinions. So, I’m probably even more sensitive to being interrupted than I might otherwise be.
Bill immediately apologized. He knows he has a tendency to interrupt. It’s a habit that gets reinforced in his job, where people are action oriented. He works with a lot of military folks, and they aren’t big on introspection or “soft skills” like listening instead of speaking. There’s a lot of testosterone and posturing that goes on– guys jockeying for leadership. Bill is probably one of the less alpha guys in his office, but he still has this habit of cutting me off when I speak. He doesn’t mean to be rude when he does it. It’s just something he’s learned to do.
It occurred to me that a lot of information and insight gets lost because people are so busy talking over each other. Successful communication depends as much on receiving messages as sending them. If you’re speaking or formulating a response when someone else is speaking, you’re going to miss some of what they say. And whatever you say in response will probably be poorer for it.
After Bill apologized for interrupting me, I said, “What do you think would happen if you consciously made an effort to listen more?”
Bill thought about it for a moment and said, “I’d probably learn more.” Then he told me that listening more carefully was a concept he’d actually talked about with his Jungian therapist.
Then I said, “I challenge you to make an effort to speak less and listen more today. When you’re at work and someone speaks to you, try to make yourself listen carefully to what they say. Do you think you can do that?”
Bill smiled enthusiastically and said, “I can try.”
That’s one thing I like about Bill. He has a really good attitude about most things. He’s slow to take offense and quick to take correction.
I truly am curious about what would happen if people listened more and spoke less. This is a habit so many of us have– myself included. We’re so busy wanting to be heard ourselves that we don’t let others have their say. And then we get offended when they don’t want to listen to us when we want to speak.
It’s not just a problem in conversations, either. It also happens when we read. Here’s an example.
A few days ago, someone in our local pet group posted a comment about heartworm preventative in Germany and asked a question about where to find heartworm treatment for her new dog, who had recently come to Germany from Romania. German vet clinics aren’t like U.S. vets. A lot of the clinics in Germany are just offices, rather than hospitals, where veterinarians can board sick animals. Heartworm treatment generally requires hospitalization. The vet where she took her dog could only test for the infestation; they could not offer treatment, because they don’t have hospital facilities.
I was the first person to respond to the poster. In my first comment to her, I explained that heartworm preventative isn’t widely prescribed in Germany because heartworms aren’t that prevalent here. I wrote that German vets usually only give prescriptions to people if they’re taking their dog to a warmer country. Vets here don’t prescribe heartworm preventative as a matter of course, the way American vets do. More discussion ensued, and we established that she’d need to find a vet with a hospital.
Another commenter came along and tagged me in a comment, “correcting” me for what I’d written about heartworm preventative medication. She wrote that German vets will prescribe preventative if someone is going to a warmer country.
My response was, “Right. I mentioned that.”
I’m sure my response came off as a bit “curt” and “bitchy”, but it always annoys me when someone doesn’t read carefully and then tries to correct another person. If she’d spent more than a few seconds reading more carefully what I’d actually written, she wouldn’t have felt the need to make the point about warmer countries that she’d mistakenly thought I’d missed. Those few seconds spent more attentively reading/listening, could have spared her the few seconds she’d spent “correcting” me, and the few seconds I spent letting her know that the correction wasn’t necessary. It also would have spared us both some irritation.
Why do people do this? I think it’s mainly because of egotism. We want to look smart, accomplished, and helpful. People want to be heard– but they don’t always want to listen. I think Americans, in particular, don’t want to take the time to listen before they respond. They’re always rushing to prepare for things, even though a minute spent listening could spare them five or ten minutes down the road. Time is money, we’re told, so we rush to say something, do something, take action– but so often, if we’d just cooled our jets and shut our mouths, we could have spared ourselves needless grief, time, and money.
Plenty of other commenters came along after I commented on that thread about heartworm treatment in Germany. Many of the people who commented never bothered to read what had already been written. It seems they all assumed they knew better than everyone else who had responded. I ended up turning off notifications for that post. Hopefully, the lady found a vet to help her dog.
This issue of how we don’t listen well came into my head a couple of days ago, when I stumbled across a televised interview of one of the women who wrote Not Without My Sister. The show was aired in Ireland, and proved that some interviewers are terrible listeners.
Notice how the interviewer often doesn’t really let her guest finish her sentences. Part of this may be because of time constraints. Part of it may be because the interviewer is trained to ask questions. But I wonder how much she can be hearing if she’s so busy forming responses and new questions as her guest is trying to answer. As a viewer, it was annoying to watch this interview, because I couldn’t hear all of what the guest was saying.
The above interview isn’t as bad as some, though. I can’t stand watching shows like The View, because there’s a whole group of women talking over each other. It’s hard to get a clear message rather than just noise. I wonder what the point of the show is, if no one can get a word in edgewise, and no one is actually listening to the person who speaks.
Anyway… I hope Bill will remember what we talked about this morning and give my proposal to talk less and listen more a try. I wonder how much more efficient and productive people could be if they’d just stop and listen for a moment. How much information will they get that is not distorted? How much time will be saved because someone didn’t have to repeat themselves? The possibilities are endless.
We really should all listen to each other more. I include myself in that suggestion. I’m going to give it a try. I hope some of you will be inspired to try it, too.
That tweet led to a lot of backlash. Rashad, who was appointed the dean of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts in May 2021, is now being pressured to resign from her job. Her response, so far, was to delete the offending tweet, then issue this apology “This week, I tweeted a statement that caused so much hurt in so many people — both broadly and inside the Howard community… I offer my most sincere apology.” As far as I know, she’s still got a job at Howard University. Regarding Rashad’s comments, Howard University has stated that “Personal positions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies.”
Many people, obviously upset that Phylicia Rashad would dare to publicly support her old friend, Bill Cosby, feel like her support of Cosby should equate to losing her job. It’s as if all of the great things Phylicia Rashad has done over her long career as an entertainer should be erased, simply because of a tweet supporting the man who was her co-star on a groundbreaking 80s era sitcom, as well as a 90s era show. This is obviously a complicated issue for Rashad, although I am surprised that she didn’t realize people would be up in arms over any public support for Bill Cosby.
Phylicia Rashad shared the experience of making The Cosby Show and, later, Cosby, with Bill Cosby. They’re obviously still dear friends. I don’t like the idea of punishing people who exercise their right to speak freely. Phylicia Rashad, to my knowledge, hasn’t sexually assaulted anyone. Moreover, she’s known Bill Cosby for many years. They have a long history together and she’s always supported him, no matter what. I don’t know what’s in Ms. Rashad’s head… and I think her first tweet was very ill advised and considered. I don’t know how a person can be a celebrity in this day and age and not realize that publicly supporting a sex offender is going to lead to being canceled by the public. Still, while I would have expected her to be savvier about voicing unpopular public opinions and backlash, I think her comments about Cosby are disappointing, but not particularly surprising.
On the other hand, Phylicia Rashad is human, and sometimes humans get carried away and do things that are ill-considered. In terms of her career, Rashad shouldn’t have tweeted. But as a friend to Cosby, obviously she felt moved to do so. Whether or not she should be friends with a convicted sex offender should be up to her. As much as some people think Bill Cosby should lose everything, the reality is, he won’t. There will always be people who will support him– family members and friends– and they aren’t going to be swayed by what the Internet thinks. There are few people in the world who are truly alone, especially people like Bill Cosby.
I kind of get the confusion, though. At one time, Bill Cosby could do no wrong. People my age grew up on his brand of family friendly television. I watched Bill Cosby on TV every week when I was growing up, having been introduced to him on 70s era shows like Fat Albert and his classic comedy film, Bill Cosby: Himself. But it wasn’t just his work on television sitcoms that made him so powerful and influential. Cosby had books, films, albums, and commercials. He had dozens of honorary doctorates and other awards. He made speeches and championed causes. He sermonized about being an involved father. He was called “America’s Dad”, and that persona transcended race. People of all colors and creeds looked up to him as “America’s Dad”. That’s probably why it took so long for him to fall out of favor with the public. Maybe if he hadn’t been “America’s Dad”, he would have been prosecuted when he was much younger and would have done a lot less harm. We probably shouldn’t be so quick to make the charismatic among us into heroes because almost all of us have clay feet.
In those heady days of the 1980s, Cosby seemed charming, intelligent, and funny. I noticed that he incorporated a lot of the routines from his film into plots on The Cosby Show; but they were still humorous, especially when performed by talented actors. The Cosby Show was very well written, family oriented, and high quality entertainment. Phylicia Rashad was a huge part of the reason why that show was so relevant in my youth– from the time I was 12 until I was 20. The Cosby Show opened doors and broke down barriers. It’s heartbreaking to realize that the character, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, is not the same man as Bill Cosby is, even though Cosby’s real life comedy routines inspired the show. So many of us who grew up with him on TV have had a hard time separating Cosby from his kind and wise alter ego, Heathcliff Huxtable. Of course, now that we know more about Cosby as a man, it makes sense that Cliff Huxtable was an OB/GYN.
I never saw a single episode of Cosby’s next show with Rashad, entitled Cosby, as it aired at a time in my life when I was too busy for network TV. From 1996-2000, I was in the Peace Corps, working nights, or in graduate school. But Cosby lasted four years, and The Cosby Show was on for eight years, so that means Rashad worked with Cosby for twelve years. Incidentally, Bill Cosby also had another 90s era show called The Cosby Mysteries, and a 60s and 70s era show called The Bill Cosby Show… I think the fact that he’s had four series named after him is pretty telling about the massive size of his ego. And while he put a lot of Black actors on the map by giving them jobs, he also destroyed a lot of people– particularly the scores of women who were his victims. Meanwhile, he was hypocritically berating and chastising people like Eddie Murphy for using the f word, or Black people as a whole.
I do believe the many women who have accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them. Yes, Cosby got out of prison, but that does not make him innocent of the crimes that put him there. He got out of prison on a technicality. He’s even admitted to drugging women he was pursuing for sex. That is criminal behavior, and it was right for him to be punished. I agree that Cosby didn’t spend enough time behind bars, even though I doubt he will re-offend, given his age and fall from grace. I wish that he had been prosecuted years ago, much like I wish Donald Trump could be held accountable for his disgusting sexual attacks on women. I don’t know what it is about men who are destined to be powerful. So many of them turn out to be incredibly predatory when it comes to sex, money, and political power. And that hunger for sex, money, and power is often married to a charismatic exterior that fools many people. For years, I thought Cosby was one of the good guys. I can see that a lot of people still believe Trump is a good guy, despite so much evidence and actual proof to the contrary.
That being said, personally, I don’t like the “cancel” aspect of our culture, which has come about thanks to social media. In fact, I think it’s chilling that a person can make a statement on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube that leads to Internet mobbing and financial ruin, particularly when the vast majority of people don’t have a personal stake in whatever has them in a tizzy. Phylicia Rashad actually knows Bill Cosby as a person, not as someone she’s seen on TV. Most of the people who are maligning Rashad’s character don’t know her or Cosby, nor are they even among his victims. Unless, of course, they feel victimized because they fell for Cosby’s charm in the 1970s and 80s. I wonder how many people have sent Phylicia Rashad death threats over her tweet. I would not be surprised if she’s gotten a few threats… and perhaps her family members have gotten them as well. For some reason, many people think it’s okay to get so angry over what someone dares to communicate that they literally call for the offender’s head on a platter. I think that’s taking things a bit too far.
Today is July 4th. It’s a day when Americans celebrate liberty from British rule. I grew up very close to where the Revolutionary War was won, so all my life, I’ve heard about how special and wonderful the United States is, particularly because we have so much freedom. But clearly we don’t have that much freedom. While a person can say whatever they want to say and, generally speaking, don’t have to worry about the government jailing them, there’s a very good chance that if it’s not what people want to hear, and they are “big” enough, they will experience cancel culture. And so many people get riled up over these things. They think a person should suffer for the rest of their lives over their thoughts, deeds, and comments. No matter what, there’s always going to be someone who thinks that lives should be ruined, or even ended, over a tweet. Then, after the next news story breaks, they forget all about that person they felt should have their head on a platter. Meanwhile, that person is still living with the aftereffects of being canceled.
I honestly don’t know if Phylicia Rashad is qualified to be a dean at Howard University. It seems to me that she might have been hired because of her fame, accomplishments, connections, and ability to influence donors. She doesn’t appear to have the usual educational background that university deans typically have. It may turn out that by publicly supporting a sex offender, she’s permanently disgraced herself and Howard University. It could be that because of the tweet, she won’t be able to do her job. If that’s the situation, then yes, maybe she should be fired or resign. But I don’t think she should be fired simply for an ill advised tweet. She has personal feelings about Bill Cosby based on actual in person experiences with him that the vast majority of other people don’t have. Her personal feelings about Cosby are not so cut and dried.
Look at Governor Ralph Northam. In the 1980s, he posed in blackface for a medical school yearbook photo. When that photo was unearthed a couple of years ago, many people called for his resignation. He resisted, and has gone on to do marvelous things in Virginia. Or, at least I think he’s done marvelous things to make Virginia more liberal, which suits me fine. I know a lot of my Republican friends can’t stand him. The point is, I’m glad he didn’t resign over social media backlash and cancel culture. And I don’t think Phylicia Rashad should be forced to resign, unless it becomes clear that she can’t do her job. Ultimately, that will be for Howard University to decide, not the general public. It should be up to the students Rashad serves and her co-workers and bosses, not random people on Facebook. No matter what, people should not be sending her hate mail or death threats. People who send hate mail and death threats must think that would be alright for others to do to them, if at some point, they do something that society deems unacceptable.
Anyway… experience has taught me that these things can and do blow over eventually. Five years ago, Josh Duggar was outed for being a sex pest. One would think the Duggars would have been finished in 2015 over that revelation. But no, it’s taken six years and accusations that Josh Duggar was viewing child pornography to finally get the Duggar family canceled. Like it or not, some people will still like Bill Cosby. They’ll ignore what he’s done. I figure, Phylicia Rashad has as much right as anyone to support her friend, Bill Cosby, even though it may turn out that her public support of Cosby will make it impossible for her to do her job as a university dean. But not being able to do her job should be why she gets fired… not what she tweets on social media. At this point, it’s not yet clear if she’s now incapable of doing her job. I, for one, think Rashad should have the chance to redeem herself.
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.
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.
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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