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The ‘Primal’ Undercurrent of Racism – Liam Neeson Race Row continues

The Oscar-nominated actor has come under intense scrutiny for a racist confession he made about his youth

In a recent interview, to discuss his starring role in the film Cold Pursuit, seasoned actor Liam Neeson (OBE) admitted to having ‘primal’ thoughts of murderous rage towards black men for a short period after discussing his female friend being the unfortunate victim of rape. The outcry of protest against these comments has potentially career-ending prospects for the seasoned actor, with threats to strip him of his OBE, cancel the premiere of Cold Pursuit and boycott his past
movie productions.

Neeson has recently conveyed that once his friend had told him the skin colour of her attacker, he felt ‘honour bound’ to exact revenge on her behalf. He has been very clear to cement the context of his youth in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. This was a time of turbulent religious conflict that was combined with a negative portrayal of black people in the media. This blend of external influencers, as well as Neeson’s urge to be protective over his friend, is the defence for his thoughts and feelings at the time. Though it does not excuse his thoughts at the time, this gives us greater insight into why Neeson spent a week walking through black neighbourhoods with a cosh (a heavy stick) hoping for somebody to fight him thirty years ago.

Many argue that Neeson’s comments about this introspective experience are commendably, though
perhaps naively, honest. It has roused the argument everybody experiencing internal thought crimes
at some point in their lives, and why it might actually be healthy to take the muzzle off of these
thoughts to discuss and assess why they are wrong. An unfortunate aspect of the interview that
clotted amongst the other accusations against Neeson’s character is that he was promoting a film
centred around the theme of revenge. Consequently, some have argued that his comments were
simply a measure to popularise Cold Pursuit and Neeson’s demeanour as a notorious Hollywood
badass. Though this is speculative, it hasn’t helped the defence of the Irish actor.

However, Neeson has been shown support by ex-England football player John Barnes. As a black man, Barnes argues that the story has been spun deliberately against Neeson to discredit him. His main point is that Neeson was being bravely honest and was aiming to relay how disgusted he was with his own thoughts about committing murder to defend the honour of his friend. ‘Winston Churchill,’ Barnes argues in his interview with Sky News, ‘who was a white supremacist and a man who believed in gassing the lesser races was a man of his time and is still heavily celebrated.’ Therefore, attacking Neeson so fiercely for a thought that he did not physically act on is a grave miscarriage of judgement.

Though he doesn’t support Neeson’s comments, actor Terry Crews observes that Neeson was simply reflecting on his experiences and that he had the opportunity of becoming a ‘racist bigot’ but crucially refrained from doing so. The support and similarity in the comments from two notable black figures suggests that, though his thoughts and comments are morally flawed, the fact that Neeson is viewing this incident with retrospective disgust lends to the argument that he should not be berated so severely.

What do you think about Liam Neeson’s comments? Feel free to share your thoughts with the Galleon team.

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