I’m not sure what’s more shocking – the fact that Liam Neeson has admitted he spent a week, 40 years ago, looking to murder a black man – any black man – in revenge for the rape of a friend of his – or the fact that so many people are jumping to his defence and praising him for his honesty!
Excuse me? This is a joke, right?
Firstly, what on earth possessed Neeson to open up about the fact that he even had such thoughts? Is he so monumentally self-obsessed that he doesn’t realise just how vile his confession is? Has his Roman Catholic upbringing somehow lulled him into some false sense that the whole world is a confessional and that as long as he says 30 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers and truly repents, an all-loving God and the general public will surely forgive him?
Incredibly, it seems there are some who will. Some, it seems, are so impressed by his honesty that they are willing to overlook the vile, casual racism to which he has just confessed (while, crucially, denying he is a racist). And they’re all singing Hallelujahs at the repentance of this former sinner – yes, 40 years ago he had evil racist thoughts but he has seen the error of his ways and dedicated his life to good acting and has he mentioned he’s not a racist? After all, if the man who’d raped his friend had been “Irish or Scot or a Brit or Lithuanian” he insists he would have reacted the same way. Except, of course, he didn’t ask his friend about the nationality or accent of her rapist. No, he asked her what colour skin the man had. And while we’re on the nationality of the rapist – who’s to say he wasn’t British? Does Liam believe black people can’t be British? Racist much, Liam?
I wrote a few months ago about the awful case of Kriss Donald, a young Scottish teenager who was abducted, tortured and murdered for the simple fact that he was white. His attackers, a group of Asian gang members, were looking for a white lad – any white lad – to kill in revenge for a perceived slight by another white lad.
That case rightly shocked and appalled everybody who heard about it. His attackers, rightly, were caught and jailed for life. But apart from the fact that Neeson didn’t actually act on the urges he felt – for which we all, at least, can be grateful – his instincts were no different from those of Kriss Donald’s murderers.
Racism is racism, whichever race it’s directed at. And it’s hard to find a more textbook example of racism, than somebody seeking to target an innocent member of the public, purely based on their skin colour, as a proxy for the actual target of one’s rage.
Given the supposed depth of his anger at the time, Neeson can perhaps be congratulated for his self-control in not giving it free reign, and resisting the urge to actually kill an innocent black man. But to applaud him for his honesty, to shrug off his confession as “just the way things were 40 years ago” is a step too far.
The things we are truly ashamed of, and appalled by, we keep to ourselves. Or if we’re religious, we keep them between ourselves and our God. In the same way that truth games teach us relatively early on in life, not to reveal our deepest, darkest secrets but instead to reveal the secrets which are just embarrassing enough to satisfy our audience, so I can’t help feeling that Neeson revealed this tidbit in the expectation that while it may shock a few people, ultimately it wasn’t that big a deal. And crucially, it would give some valued extra publicity to his latest movie (which is, after all, about revenge).
So what, then, is truly the most shocking thing about this story? The fact that Liam Neeson has admitted to wanting to kill a black man? The fact that by admitting it so publicly, he’s letting us know he really doesn’t think it’s that big a deal? Or the fact that so many people agree with him? Heaven help us.