We Should All Take a Long, Hard Look At Ourselves – Thoughts on Liam Neeson’s Revenge Interview

So this Liam Neeson thing’s been playing on my mind. Specifically, the idea that all of us have innate biases and prejudices based on our socialisation while we were growing up. EVERYONE has these. No exceptions.

So the situation so far is that he is being vilified for his story about reacting to the rape of his friend by actively going out looking for a black “bastard” (he actually put it in quotation marks himself in the interview) to start some shit with him so that he could “kill him”.

So firstly, let’s look at the actual interview. We don’t want to unfairly judge these things by just going with what we read somewhere on the internet and on social media, right?

What he said in the interview word for word.

Now, I need to clarify something before we go on… I don’t stand for racism of any kind and I vehemently oppose anything of the sort. But I don’t think Liam Neeson here falls into that category and I’ll try and break down why.

I myself have my own prejudices, particularly against black people, because of the community I grew up in and the way I was socialised. I grew up in Apartheid South Africa and the Muslim Indian Community is very racist, even though we do have the exceptions who have strived and fought against apartheid, the bulk of the community was and continues to be racist. Black people when I was growing up and mostly today as well were either domestic workers a.k.a. “maids” who were underpaid and often mistreated or treated as second class, thieves or violent thugs out to murder you. There was the occasional black Imam or Muezzin who was meek, also underpaid and lived in modest quarters at the mosque. That’s it. There was no other category. I didn’t have black friends, there weren’t black families around which my family interacted with. Apart from real life where the above categories existed for me, the only other black people I saw were on TV, and we all know how they’re portrayed there.

So, in that context, there was this unwarranted, deep-seated “fear of the black man” instilled in me from a young age. To complicate things there was also discrimination within the Muslim community based on caste. I constantly heard about how memons (our “clan”) were the best and how the others – Khoknis, Surtees, Ali Pors, whatever else – were deficient in one way or another. This affected who you were allowed to marry, interact with, it decided why certain people behaved the way they did and justified or explained any actions they did. Fucked up to the core.

I did fight agaisnt this from a young age as well… both the caste thing as well as the inherent racism. I remember a specific incident at 10 where I stared dead-eyed at my staunch caste-believing aunt and saying “I’m gonna marry a nice black girl when I grow up.” I think I gave her high blood pressure. But even with that, I also remember walking down the street from school once, deep in thought and staring at the ground when in my peripheral vision, a black man minding his own business was walking toward me, not minding me at all, but I immediately looked up and got a shock of terror which I could not identify. I jumped. He noticed this and burst out laughing. Something which made me hate him more in my embarassment, but it’s a good example of how my entrenched socialisation regarding black people manifested.

Back to Liam Neeson, John Barnes in an interview said it better than I could, here’s the clip… it’s worth watching and he’s right.

John Barnes brilliant break down as to why everyone was too quick to judge Liam Neeson.
UPDATE (10/02/2019): Trevor Noah reflecting on Liam Neeson’s story on the Daily Show

The overall point I want to make is that we need to be aware of our own prejudices and work to fight against it. At least work at recognising and admitting it up front first. The interview with Liam Neeson up front shows how his socialisation manifested in a very traumatic and stressful incident for someone close to him… AND he hates how he reacted and feels bad about what he was thinking. We should all hope we’re at the stage of recognising our own biases. Because, if you think you don’t have prejudices and aren’t affected like this… that’s bullshit. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

To end, while we’re on the topic, I think it’s worth breaking down some terms when it comes to racism, racial prejudice and racial discrimination and how it manifests from a book I’ve read recently.

To understand racism, we need to differentiate it from racial prejudice and discrimination.

To say that you’re racially prejudiced against another person means that you prejudge him on the basis of the racial group to which he belongs.
The logic here goes as follows: “This person belongs to racial group X. People from group X have characteristic Y. Therefore, this person has characteristic Y as well.” This judgment is made before you have any empirical evidence that the person has the characteristic in question. That’s why it’s called a prejudgment, or prejudice. 

If you then act on your prejudice against the person, you’re discriminating against him. This could take the form of ignoring, excluding, avoiding, ridiculing, threatening or even committing violence against the person against whom you’re discriminating.

In these senses of the terms, a person from any racial group can be racially prejudiced and can racially discriminate against a person from any other racial group. White people can do so against black people – and vice versa.

However, racial prejudice and discrimination only become racism when one racial group has more power than another group and uses that power against its members in a systemic manner. To do that, the more powerful group incorporates their prejudices into society’s laws, institutions, policies and norms, which they can then use to discriminate against the less powerful group on a group-to-group, rather than just an individual-to-individual, level.

Thus, black people can be prejudiced and discriminate against white people – but they cannot be racist against them, because of the imbalance in power between the two groups.

For example, a black real estate agent could avoid doing business with a white person because of her race, just as a white real estate agent could do to a black person. But black people cannot create and implement policies that lead to white people being prohibited from purchasing homes in predominantly black neighborhoods, whereas white people can and have done so to black people.

Black people simply lack the power to turn their racial prejudice and discrimination into racism, which is a system of racial oppression, not a mere feeling or behavior that’s racially motivated.

White Fragility by RobinDiAngelo

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