- After a close friend said she was raped by a black man 40 years ago, Liam Neeson told The Independent that he would carry a weapon hoping to be approached by a ‘black b——‘ so he could kill him.
- When the interview was published on Monday, it quickly went viral.
- Neeson’s comments attracted a flood of condemnation from all areas of the internet.
- Some people, however, defended and praised the actor – including the former soccer player John Barnes, who said Neeson “deserves a medal” for his honesty.
Liam Neeson is facing a wave of backlash after his recent interview with The Independent went viral on Monday.
During a press junket for his newest film “Cold Pursuit” – in which Neeson plays a father seeking revenge after his son was killed by a drug gang – the actor described a revenge fantasy he once had after a close friend said she was raped by a black man 40 years ago.
“I went up and down areas with a cosh,” he continued, using a British term for a weapon that can bludgeon, “hoping I’d be approached by somebody. I’m ashamed to say that.”
“And I did it for maybe a week, hoping some ‘black b——‘ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know?” he said, using air quotes around the offensive term. “So that I could kill him.”
Though he appeared on “Good Morning America” on Tuesday to clarify that this “incident” occurred nearly 40 years ago and to insist he’s “not racist,” his comments had already been condemned on social media.
People were appalled that Neeson would conflate the actions of one black person with the entire black community
To those saying "yeah but Liam Neeson's mate was raped," you're missing the point. A rapist is a rapist, their skin colour is utterly irrelevant. The fact Neeson honed in on that aspect, speaks volumes.
— Jack D ???? (@JackDunc1) February 5, 2019
Also can we get the language right please, getting back at a Black person who harmed you is revenge. Wanting any* Black person to pay for the harm (done to a friend) is actually lynching.
— Guilaine Kinouani (@KGuilaine) February 4, 2019
Many of those critics pointed out that Neeson’s experience as evidence of a larger, systemic bias against black people.
“Liam Neeson is definitely a reminder that there are folks who walk around hoping to provoke Black people so they can kill us,” wrote journalist George M. Johnson.
Liam Neeson is definitely a reminder that there are folks who walk around hoping to provoke Black people so they can kill us.
A lot of them are in law enforcement and politics.
— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) February 4, 2019
What Neeson learnt from that experience was that revenge isn’t worth it, not that ermmmmm ROAMING THE STREETS FOR A WEEK LOOKING FOR AN INNOCENT BLACK MAN TO MURDER was a tad wrong.
W I L D.
— Susan Wokoma (@susan_wokoma) February 4, 2019
how many black men have lost their lives cos a white man was out one day looking for trouble?
— Mrs GIFLord DanielléDASH (@DanielleDASH) February 4, 2019
Many argue that Neeson’s “hunt” was indicative of latent, existing racism, rather than some sort of “phase” triggered by emotional trauma – especially considering Neeson said that he specifically asked his friend about her rapist’s race.
Liam Neeson says he's not a racist… but he's wrong. Even if he had gone on the hunt for a white man that's still racist. Targeting someone on skin colour alone. And he asked colour – not age, height, weight, identifying features – just colour. https://t.co/NbjCkkbnQJ
— Heggitha ;; (@HeggieTBK) February 5, 2019
And the very fact that he asked the question, what colour was him, betrays he has a hung up w/ BM. Ofc he would not have been murderously triggered if the assailant did not own a black penis. Let’s be real. That’s the issue here.
— Guilaine Kinouani (@KGuilaine) February 4, 2019
I’m still seeing mainly white apologists excusing Liam Neeson’s behaviour.
Cool, just acknowledge that you also have racial prejudices.
His rage focussed on ‘Black’ not the Rape. He specifically asked about race, he didn’t go out looking for rapists.
Check your conscience.
— Marianne (@MissMMiles) February 5, 2019
Neeson did, however, have defenders
Some people praised his admission, including the former soccer player John Barnes, who said Neeson “deserves a medal” for being honest.
Football legend @officialbarnesy has told Sky News he thinks actor Liam Neeson 'deserves a medal' for his honesty about once having violent thoughts about "killing" a black person.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) February 5, 2019
Journalist Jeremy Helligar argued that Neeson simply “lacked awareness” in the situation.
Journalist Jeremy Helligar believes while Liam Neeson's actions were racist, it doesn't make him a racist. He says Neeson simply 'lacked awareness'. pic.twitter.com/BK9bMPmW0p
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) February 5, 2019
Liam Neeson in a heartfelt interview stated that an emotional trauma made him feel unjustly prejudiced against black people, but he came to his senses, realised his gross error of judgement, and learned from it.
Social Media: Get the pitchforks, guys! Liam Neeson is a racist!
— Jonathan Pie (@JonathanPieNews) February 5, 2019
very personal story and telling people that his reaction was wrong and he regrets
— Chrissie (@Chrissie1306) February 4, 2019
Still, Neeson’s defenders were roundly mocked. Many noted that both the urge and the ability to praise Neeson’s actions are symptoms of whiteness and privilege.
Warms my heart to see two white ppl finding comfort in the fact Liam Neeson found it in his heart to not kill a random Black man. I know how deeply this effects the both of you and applaud you the targeted demo, for finding it in your hearts to redeem him
— Danie Durst (@daniecal) February 4, 2019
Aye man you don't get points for being "honest" and saying you relate to Liam Neeson's racism bubbling over and manifesting itself in the desire to kill innocent ppl what the fuck is wrong with y'all
— Beyonce has an uncle named Larry Beyince. Bruh…. (@DragonflyJonez) February 5, 2019
Let yesterday be marked as the day a lot of ytpeople decided that “planning to go out and beat up black men” wasn’t racism but a charming redemption story for Liam Neeson
— marcus (@marcusjdl) February 5, 2019
Others noted that Neeson feeling free to tell this story at all is emblematic of his own privilege.
The global fantasy of being able to enact violence on black people, especially in the context of sexual assault panic, has created laws and customs that enable that violence. I would like for him and interviewers to meditate on that, now that he opened the door
— Dad (@fivefifths) February 5, 2019
Neeson got it spun into a story about triumph over primal urges when it's a story about what makes people beat on innocent black and brown bodies that pose them no danger. Robin barely pushed back and I'm tired.
— Craig Bro Dude (@CraigSJ) February 5, 2019
“Liam Neeson being ready to take any Black life over what one person allegedly did just shows how meaningless and inconsequential black lives are to some,” wrote Frederick Joseph, founder of the non-profit We Have Stories. “Even him telling the story demonstrates a level of privilege and understating that there may not be repercussions.”
Liam Neeson being ready to take any Black life over what one person allegedly did just shows how meaningless and inconsequential black lives are to some.
Even him telling the story demonstrates a level of privilege and understating that there may not be repercussions.
— Frederick Joseph (@FredTJoseph) February 4, 2019
Journalist Gary Younge echoed this sentiment in a piece for The Guardian.
“When some white people look at us they see anything from a misplaced grievance to a cautionary tale,” Younge wrote. “What they do not see are human beings. We are still fair game.”
— Rossalyn Warren (@RossalynWarren) February 5, 2019
Neeson said on ‘GMA’ that he was ‘shocked’ by his own feelings
On “GMA,” Roberts asked Neeson what would have happened if the alleged rapist were white.
“If she’d had said [the man was] an Irish, or a Scot, or a Brit, or a Lithuanian, I know it would have had the same effect,” he said. “I was trying to show honour to my – stand up for my – dear friend, in this terrible, medieval fashion. And I’m a fairly intelligent guy, and that’s why it kind of shocked me when I came down to earth after having these horrible feelings. Luckily, no violence occurred. Ever. Thanks be to God.”
He did, however, say he feels certain that he would have committed an act of violence, had an innocent black person provoked him.
“We all pretend we’re all, kind of, you know, ‘politically correct,'” he said, telling Roberts that he hopes his story helps people “open up” and talk about these issues more.
“In this country – it’s the same in my own country, too – you sometimes just scratch the surface. And you discover this racism and bigotry, and it’s there,” he said.
If you are a victim of sexual assault, you can visit RAINN or call its hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member.
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