OPINION: Liam Neeson’s extremely racist admission could have been a teachable moment, but instead he’s advocating power walking to shake off white supremacy
Irish film star Liam Neeson was in the midst of a press junket – the likes of which he’s encountered many times throughout his lengthy career – for his upcoming film Cold Pursuit (a.k.a. Taken in snow) when dude took the sharpest of left turns.
In discussing with The Independent how he channeled a man seeking revenge in Cold Pursuit – and his last 3,419 films – Neeson shared a story of how he reacted to the rape of a friend in the late 1970s. When he was told the assailant was a Black man, he spent a whole-ass week strolling up and down the street with a weapon hoping a “Black bastard” would start some shit with him, giving him a good reason to beat him to death.
He even admitted during the interview that he thought it was nuts to share a story that anyone with a Twitter account knew would make him an instant pariah. The “holy shit” his Cold Pursuit co-star uttered during the story echoes all of us.
When I first read it, I wondered if Neeson was under the influence of drugs similar to the girls he rescues in Taken. Then I went through a mental Rolodex of all the things that I will likely go the rest of my natural life without ever admitting to the world. But the more I thought on it, I’ve determined that his admission is a good thing.
From a business standpoint, I’m sure Neeson’s publicists and agents were contemplating downing a bottle of cyanide pills on Monday; and more than one Summit Entertainment executive fired off a blistering email or two. But from a teachable moment perspective, this A-list white male celebrity admitting that he once wanted to murder a Black man (any Black man, mind you) could serve as a teachable moment for those harboring similar thoughts. Black folks are not exactly shocked by these revelations.
Terry Crews, who was the victim of a sexual assault by a powerful white Hollywood agent, made it clear how words like Neeson’s can transform into horrific actions.
Hmmmm. Reminds me of a time I got provoked by a rich white guy I didn’t know. Hoping I would do something.
Thank God I never took the bait. https://t.co/9OIka9vBRx
— terry crews (@terrycrews) February 4, 2019
George Zimmerman did to a child what Liam described. God bless Trayvon https://t.co/HdkqiyAMKi
— terry crews (@terrycrews) February 5, 2019
Power Walking is not the Cure for Racism
Neeson has the star power to force the conversation to the fore, and there’s no such thing as “too often” when it comes to having candid public conversations about racism and white supremacy. That conversation was had, in brief, when the old Irishman went on Good Morning America Tuesday (probably at the urging of aforementioned agents and studio executives) to clean up the shit show that has his name trending on Twitter.
After his expected “I’m not racist” and the admission that he dealt with his “primal urge” by visiting a priest and, uh, power walking, Robin Roberts asked Neeson, “What is the teachable moment you’re hoping people learn from this?”
Neeson cited a nakedly racist encounter he experienced while filming Schindler’s List a quarter-century ago and suggested that we all “open up” to each other more: “We all pretend we’re politically correct…in this country, the same in my country, you just scratch the surface and discover this racism; this bigotry,” he said.
I would’ve liked to see both of them flesh things out a little more. I especially wanted Roberts to push Neeson on how his story evokes the historical stain on our country of white women falsely accusing Black men of rape and the awful consequences we’ve endured as a result. (To this day, no single movie angers me more than 1997’s Rosewood, but I digress). Like many white men who grow old having no idea how to use their privilege for good, Neeson asked Roberts for answers that she didn’t have the time or space to provide in an 8-minute GMA interview.
Neeson is my mother’s age, and I stop short of “canceling” him for a terrible notion that he had before I was ever drawing breath, especially considering I think about things completely differently than I did just a decade ago. But if he’s truly contrite about his actions, he has the resources and power to do something about it. Founding or working in an organization, donating to a cause…whatever steps he can take to mitigate the insidious effects of racism.
If Neeson was going to drop a wild firebomb like that in the middle of a press junket thinking he wasn’t going to have to answer for it in a tangible way, then he hasn’t learned much in his four-plus-decade career in Hollywood. Sure, there’s some admiration to be found in the confession, but now comes the real work. Let’s see what he does next.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at his own site, wafflecolored.com.