No, Liam Neeson. It’s not about the lack of political correctness. It’s about outright racism.

 

The age of the Internet is a harrowing one. No tweet is ever buried deep enough, no Facebook post forgotten, and there is always a somewhat alarming possibility that someone can dig up Internet remarks from your past and use them against you. Of course, this applies mostly to folks who live in the limelight – celebrities, influencers, and politicians.

This year we saw the resurfacing of old tweets nearly destroy the careers of several fan-favorites. From the racist tweets that were discovered concerning makeup influencers Laura Lee and Jeffree Star, to jokes screenwriter James Gunn had made about pedophilia and rape, which were brought to public attention by alt-right, male supremacist Mike Cernovich.

While for Laura Lee and James Gunn these tweets marked an irreversible hit to their careers and reputations, Jeffree Star was able to emerge somewhat unscathed, after publicly apologizing several times and bringing context to his words. So what marks the difference between poorly worded tweets, and outright racism?

Struggles with aggression

In an interview with The Independent on his latest film, Cold Pursuit, Liam Neeson shared some very private, and alarming, thoughts on his struggles with aggression in the past. He shared a story about finding out someone he was close to had been raped, and in feeling the need to reciprocate somehow, went out with a weapon looking for someone who matched the purely racial description he’d been given to “kill”.

An excerpt from his interview follows:

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

The interview has been met with mass public backlash, with the Red Carpet for the premiere of Cold Pursuit even being canceled amidst the controversy. Neeson very explicitly makes a racialized, violent, claim in this interview, and despite arguments of interpretation and context being important, anyone who watches the interview can see that Neeson meant exactly what he said.

He did not misspeak or use the wrong words, he very explicitly meant to convey that he had, at a point in his life, actively sought violence against anyone who was black, simply because they matched the race of a friend’s rapist.

Neeson has since gone on Good Morning America to address the allegations of racism, saying “I’m not racist”, and that had the attacker been any other race, he would have acted the same way. He acknowledges that the whole ordeal, namely his reaction to it, “was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that”, but he seems quite confident that it was not a racially motivated decision, but just an aggressive means of seeking reparations for his friend’s attack.

As several people have pointed out in the aftermath of his defensive comments, in Neeson’s recounting of the event he asks his friend about the rapist, “did she know who it was? No. What color were they? She said it was a black person.”

The first question he asked after asking whether she knew the person was about the color of their skin. This is inherently racist. He did not ask how old they were, how tall they were, or any other physical indication that could have helped with the identification. Liam Neeson asked about the color of their skin because he held some prejudice, however subconscious, and he acted on it in a manner that was aggressive and, quite blatantly, racist.

To add salt to the wound, Neeson further tried to justify his non-racist-ness by pinning the blame on political correctness culture, saying “we all pretend we are all politically correct.”

Yes, Liam Neeson was certainly not being politically correct when he admitted to wanting to find and kill anyone who was black. However, his lack of political correctness cannot be an excuse for a blatant and disgusting display of racism, for which he should apologize rather than try to defend.