Do Not Punish Liam Neeson For His Honesty, Learn From It

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We all watched him take down the bad guys in the Taken movies, single-handedly crossing international borders to save his daughter from the awful criminals that sought to exploit her.

Liam Neeson’s on-screen persona seemed to become a bit more real on Monday, when he shared a personal anecdote with the Independent that shocked readers to say the least.

Neeson recounted a time, 40 years ago by his own calculation, where a woman he was close to was raped by a black man. He spoke of the rage he felt:

“I went up and down areas with a cosh [crowbar], hoping I’d be approached by somebody. I’m ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week — hoping some [Neeson gestured air quotes with his fingers, according to the Independent] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.”

Neeson’s comments were shocking for sure, and as always in our outrage-fueled culture, plenty were quick to call him on it. This did not surprise me in the slightest. In a day and age when public figures are put on trial in the public eye, and even the slightest misstep of the mouth could result in an immediate uproar, it isn’t any wonder that Neeson’s words were met with such fury.

But the raw honesty on Neeson’s part that has highlighted this toxic rage has given us much more to think about besides simply boycotting Neeson’s movies. It has put forth a very important question–not how dare he think these things, but why?

We all know that anger can cause us to say and do things that we wouldn’t normally do in a calm state. How many of us have said something we regret? I’d suspect if all of our personal thoughts were put on display for the world to see, even those we had at a time where anger was radiating, there would be a lot of us who would be in trouble. The bottom line is, anger can manifest itself in a very irrational way–especially when someone we love has been violated in such a terrible way.

This is not to say racism should be excused or dismissed, but it is important to put this anecdote into context, and realize that a person’s reaction to a loved one being raped is not an overall reflection on that person as a human being. Neeson has since stated that he would have felt the same if the attacker would have been white.

In today’s tense climate, it’s understandable that the notion of seeking out someone of a certain race, looking for a way to take out your anger would be upsetting. I get that. Having your people be targetted solely for the color of their skin when the crime causing such hateful rage had nothing to do with you? It’s no doubt unfair and troubling.

Neeson’s thoughts were irrational, and this is what it boils down to. He has acknowledged these thoughts were wrong and he has stated how bad he felt for having them. Through exercise and with the help of friends, he was able to move past the anger, and realize the damage that thoughts like these can have if carried out to action.

But perhaps the sharing of these thoughts do not have to be damaging. There are plenty of opportunities to hold people accountable for sentiments that are harmful to certain races, and Liam Neeson has held himself accountable in this situation. He could have kept this insight into his personal life to himself, but he instead chose to share it. Rather than dismiss him as a racist piece of trash as much of the Internet has done, I’d be interested to know what would happened if we all learned from this–why these thoughts occured, where is the root, and how people can recognize the harm behind them.

Does Liam Neeson deserve a medal for being so open about such an offensive thought? No. But he does deserve a chance to make amends, and this moment deserves to be a teachable moment in a time where our country is divided. If we can react without outrage in this instance, perhaps the division amongst Americans is not beyond repair.

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