Neeson had never revealed this bit of information, but since the movie is about revenge, he thought it apropos to share this bit of personal history. While I applaud Neeson for his honesty — behavior doesn’t change without transparency — I have some serious issues with his thought process and the harm it causes Black men.
Neeson said the incident happened more than 40 years ago, and he’s not a racist. Maybe he’s not now, but I’m going out on a ledge here and saying, he was then — that’s why any Black man would do. He realized he was behaving like a lunatic and sought the counsel of a priest, which then sparked some self-analysis. His comments about racism and bigotry on “Good Morning America” maybe alluded to this. But I’m not sure as they left me a little confused.
I can certainly understand wanting revenge, the desire to inflict pain on someone who harmed you or someone you love. It’s an ugly side of human nature, but it’s reality.
(I did find it odd that Neeson asked the color of the rapist, and, of course, he was Black. I don’t want to disparage the victim or the legitimacy of her rape, but for Black people, it gets problematic here. All it takes is a white woman to blame a Black man for rape or any other crime, and life for all Black men instantly becomes a little more dangerous. Before even hearing the rest of the story, we knew it was going left when he asked for the race.)
Where Neeson loses me is he wants to kill any Black man, not the specific person who raped his friend. How is an entire group of Black men responsible for the behavior of one? This mindset isn’t new. Black people are always held accountable for what one of us does. This persistence of essentially making millions of people become one person is why we’re so caught up in representation. This is why we hold our breath and pray the perpetrators aren’t Black when we hear of a heinous crime. When they aren’t Black, we give a long sigh of relief. When they are Black, we’re embarrassed, and we know this just reinforces long-held stereotypes about us. I’ve used this analogy before in this column. We know white people are seen as individuals, and what one white person does doesn’t affect the masses.
That’s why Neeson’s attitude is so disgusting. It’s this attitude that has inflicted harm on countless Black men for generations. For me, two incidents in my teen years solidified just how precarious it is to be a Black man in this country when white people are out to get you. In 1990, Charles Stuart blamed the murder of his pregnant wife on a Black man. In 1994, Susan Smith said a Black man kidnapped her two children during a carjacking. In both of these incidents, random Black men were harassed for these crimes that it turns out no Black person committed in the first place. Stuart and Smith committed the crimes. In the Stuart incident it’s likely the Black man who was arrested would’ve been convicted for a crime he didn’t commit had Stuart’s brother not come forward with the truth. Since these incidents, there have been many more high- (and low-) profile manhunts for these imaginary Black boogeymen.
As I said earlier, I applaud Neeson for his honesty, and he owns up to his wacked out thoughts. Thankfully, he never got the “revenge” he sought. However, I can’t help but wonder how many Liam Neesons are walking around at any given time, ready and willing to harm a Black man, any Black man, for general purposes.