Updated: Feb 11, 2019
I am a black woman. I fully understand that my use of the word 'lynching' here is controversial. I also understand that the hot water Liam Neeson finds himself in now, which is entirely down to his own conduct, bears absolutely no comparison to the thousands of innocent black people who were lynched simply for being who they were. Nonetheless, I defend my use of the word because of its connection to racism, which is relevant for this matter, and more notably because of the metaphoric lynching that Neeson is enduring right now. As a black woman, I think this public punishment is ridiculous.
"It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that... it’s awful," Neeson continues, a tremble in his breath. "But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the f*** are you doing,’ you know?" LIAM NEESON, Independent, February 2019
I won't get into the details of Neeson's interview, which can be found here. But I wish to address the reaction to this interview despite his comments above. My main question is, WHY IS LIAM NEESON BEING VILIFIED FOR SOMETHING THAT HE ACKNOWLEDGED TO BE DEPLORABLE BEHAVIOUR? He denounced his behaviour in the quote above (from the interview) and a second time on an American talk show (click here for video explaining the interview). If he was defending his behaviour I could understand the backlash. But he isn't. I'm with John Barnes on this one, who does a great job trying to bring some balance and reason to the mob-like interpretation of Neeson's comments. He takes no issue with Neeson and in fact commends him for his honesty. And by the way, Barnes, like me, is also black.
What I cannot stand about the times in which we live is this moralistic behaviour where people feel entitled to slam and attack anyone who says anything that even slightly appears politically incorrect. The problem with political correctness is the fascist way in which it bullies people into conforming to accepted ideologies. Many of Trump's followers prove that political correctness fails to change people's hearts. For decades racism has been decried in the US but Trump, whether intentionally or not, has given many white Americans permission to express the racism that simmered beneath all along. Brexit has had the same effect on white Britons in the UK. Political correctness doesn't erase our tendency as humans to be self-interested, judgemental and prejudiced. All political correctness does is hide this tendency in some and in others fuel a self-righteousness that makes them feel entitled to bully anyone who doesn't maintain the pretence of tolerance and acceptance.
I am, of course, NOT AT ALL suggesting that all whites are racist; my husband is white so I know this is not true. And I am not stating that only whites are capable of prejudice; that would be ridiculous and also untrue. But I am saying that attacking Neeson makes people feel like they are taking a stand against racism when on a day-to-day basis most of them take no such stand at all. Do these people care about the ethnic people in third world countries who make brand name clothes, that these same people buy, for pennies working in sweat shops? Have they refused to bank at Lloyds, Barclays or HSBC because of their historical links with the slave trade? How many of these people own diamonds, which are blood-soaked from a murderous, exploitative African trade which continues even now? Do these same people express outrage when yet another black man gets racially-profiled or shot by the police? Or did they express any rage when the UK government was unfairly deporting Windrush children left, right and centre? Do they know whether their black counterparts at work make less than them and if they found out they did, would they even care? It's easy to bully someone on social media, especially when you're actually benefiting socio-economically from the dynamic of racism. But unless you are personally taking a stand against racism in your own life, sshhh. Be quiet. I don't want to hear anything from you because you're no better than the person you attack.
Getting Down to the Real Issue
I have two children. One is black, one is mixed-race. Both I love so much it hurts. What they will face in the world is no joke. And the fact is that if either of my children faced the Neeson of the past, it would be my and their worst nightmare. His sentiments were disgusting and represent the worst parts of who we are as humans. However, as a mother I can honestly say that if they face people like the Neeson of today in this world, who courageously admit their prejudices, acknowledge that they are wrong and work on themselves to overcome their failings, I won't be worried for my kids. Because this is the only real way to tackle racism. The fact is that based on our experiences, culture, history, the things we have been told and the influence of media, we ALL have prejudices. It seems to me that this is the point that Neeson was making and I agree with him. If we spend more energy being honest with ourselves and changing our own attitudes rather than trying to appear superior to others, we'd make a lot more progress in society. The lynch mob needs to lay off Neeson and find a way to make a real difference in the world. Because I can tell you now that it is real-life activists, who have taken a practical, tangible stand and paid a personal price in the fight against racism, that paved the way for me to live freely as a member of the African diaspora in a Western country. The keyboard warriors have never done anything for me or for people like me. Neeson gets no round of applause from me for denouncing his racism; that's what he should do. But he does get my support for publicly admitting his racism in a time when political correctness forces people to pretend to be something they aren't. So, for this reason I'm with you, John Barnes; I'm #TeamNeeson.