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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Why I Love Big Cities

Maybe it’s because growing up in Johannesburg has cemented the mix of danger, concrete and… I don’t know what to call it… flow? maybe. That’s always had me mesmerised by cities. It’s that constant movement, people moving through it like blood along arteries. It’s a macrocosm of life. Like blood flows through the body delivering nourishment and oxygen to organs, people do that to a city… from one place to another, keeping it alive.

It’s like the city is a living organism on its own being nourished by ideas, labour and the flow of money. I love how, generally, in a city big and diverse enough, you can always find people or a place that caters exactly to your particular curiosities. Hip Hop, Islam, Knitting, Cats, Book Clubs, etc. etc. You’ll find something that brings people together in a city. It’s so easy for ideas to mesh together… for similar curiosities to group together.

I always have the animated image in my head about the public transport system and how if you track them all in the system in a time-lapse it would look exactly like blood flows through arteries. When you think about it like that, it’s kind of weird when you jump on a bus or take a walk through the city. You kind of are the lifeblood of a city… you and millions of others.

What I don’t like is that, as a habit, you end up eventually spending a bit too much time away from it. Not really taking advantage of a city. Then again, a city is built on concepts like capitalism, which sustain it and make it grow… to a fault. Eventually seeing something like that, growth for growth’s sake… it does kind of grind against you and makes you subconsciously shy away from it… or it becomes you.

Like most things… it gets complex the more you think of it. So, in the end, you kind of end up loving and loathing it. But you can never get away from it.

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If I Had To Do It All Again…

I’ve been in countless situations like it, especially in a work context. The condescending tone, remark, jibe at me communicating their superiority with a little dig at my work or clothes or music choices (yeah, even that). It was hard at first, but I think I got used to it. I had come to the realisation like so many other people of colour that we have to work twice as hard to get half as far because this is “their” world. It’s stifling and disheartening, your ideas are overlooked or repeated by someone with a lighter skin tone before they’re taken onboard. It’s all these little things that irritate, and after a long enough time it leaves its mark, psychologically.

It takes a while to break out of it. You have to sit with yourself and just shovel through all these feelings and thoughts and beliefs and values to just remember, at a basic level, who you are and what you stand for and why the things they’ve said or done to you are bullshit. You have to figure out what to do next, because you can’t carry on like that… who in their right mind would choose to carry on in that context? After that it just becomes clear what you need to do, what you need to change.

You see, it isn’t hard to do the right thing, it’s hard knowing what the right thing is. But, once you know what the right thing to do is… it’s hard not to do it. It will burrow a hole in your mind, day by day, until you do something about it.

I am thankful I am where I am now. With the clarity I have, the place I’m at, the work I’m doing, the people who are around me. But it took a hard journey to get here. But nothing worth having ever comes easy and even though it was so hard, I’d do it again. I treasure the journey as much as the destination. I wouldn’t be who I am without it. I’d be less… me.

And, because life is what it is, it’s probably not the end. Good and Bad come in waves. There’s always tests which make you pit your values and grit against the world. They’re there to see how you react, respond… What do you do? What do you give up? What do you protect?

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EVERYBODY Needs Counselling

I think we all fall victim to the type of thinking that we’re invincible. That whatever happens, we can always handle whatever needs to be done by ourselves and make our own very insightful and wise decisions on what’s happening and what to do next.

But we can’t. Not a single one of us can do it without help in some form. Friends, family, even acquaintances… we need someone to have our back, someone we can verbalise our thoughts and feelings to, to get them either validated or to just check that we’re not fucking crazy.

The point is that we have blind spots, everybody has blind spots, especially when it comes to themselves. We either think too much, too well, or too ill of ourselves. The only way to see ourselves for what we are is to first be open that we don’t actually know everything about ourselves and then talk it through with some one you trust. If that other person doesn’t exist or you’re just not comfortable talking about it with anyone you know… GET OUTSIDE HELP.

If it’s professional, get a coach. Emotional, see a psychologist. Having marital problems, get marriage counseling. No, it’s not a deep personal fault that you’re going to see someone for help and there is nothing particularly wrong with you. You’re human. And, by doing this, you’ll already be miles ahead everyone else who’ll might judge you while trying to deal with their own immense load of baggage, by themselves. Anyway, it’s not about them.

Everybody is fighting a battle of some sort. Struggling with something at any given point in their lives. Nothing good lasts for ever and nothing bad either. Focus on what you need right now and go get it.

Subsequently, looking at this from the other side… never fail to ask someone close to you, sincerely, “How are you, really?”, offer whatever help you can, and if there’s something you can do that’s obvious and would help, do it without asking them. Everybody needs help.

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Darkness Has No Identity

So, I was going through my daily podcast listening routine and one in particular had a fantastic thought to begin with…

“Darkness has no identity of its own, all it is… is a name we give to the absence of light.”

Thinking about it… you can create light, through lighting a match, flipping a switch, whatever. But, you can’t create darkness, if you want that you need to extinguish light. Where there’s light there can be no darkness.

The metaphors around this are amazing too. Truth is often associated with the light, Falsehood with darkness. In Islam, one of the Quranic injunctions is that Falsehood, inevitably, will perish. Lies can not last because the Truth inevitably comes out and will come out.

When we think about light and dark in terms of truth and falsehood, they seem like very abstract concepts but make it more personal. What falsehoods do we tell ourselves in order to sleep better at night or to just deny the “truth” about ourselves becasue it’s a bit too difficult to face? One of my greatest learning moments was finally seeing things for what they are instead of what I wanted them to be. This was doubly hard because it happened in front of others, people I had to convince of an argument but the case I made didn’t match the conclusion I ended up with. Come to think of it, that particular learning moment had the Truth hit me straight in the face. A major moment of clarity.

This little line from a podcast made me contemplate how important knowledge of self is, as well as getting to the point of seeing things as they are, and accepting them for what they are. We need to constantly shine a light inside of ourselves to find the Truth and accept ourselves for what we are, warts and all, before we can begin to look outward and see the world for what it is.

Looking at the world today, man… Darkness everywhere. I want to do my bit by spreading a little bit of light, some truth, into that void. And, I believe, it has to begin with me, with us, understanding ourselves better and constantly striving to make ourselves better than we are in whatever little ways we can, day by day. But, we won’t be able to do that if we’re not seeing ourselves clearly, if we haven’t shone that light inside and accepted ourselves for who we are.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

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#MeToo, Women, The Golden Globes and My Commitment

The recent action by the women at the Golden Globes and the resurgence of #MeToo reminded me of what I wrote back in October last year when this topic started gaining ground, people started coming out and raising awareness about what a shit show it is to be a women in today’s world. I did have my head in the sand and was complicit in all the small jokes, the little comments, the conversations I brushed over and all of the above that I ignored and let slide.

It started with this post…

“Going through my feed. Shocked at the amount of #MeToo posts. It makes me sad and very angry. As a male I’ve just had my head in the sand about the extent to which sexual assault and harassment happens to women. This is eye opening and I feel really helpless. Short of castrating any fucker who would blatantly attempt this kind of thing in my presence… What can I do to help? I want to do something.”

After which I had spoken to a good number of women who made me realise that apart from being ignorant, I was complicit.  I didn’t see it, because it’s everywhere. We’re steeped in the culture and so we don’t notice it. We see it as normal when it’s anything but.

The follow-up post was this one, and I need to live up to it. It’s a commitment I still stand by.

Click or Read Below… I couldn’t get a better shot of this post.


“Following on from yesterday’s post on #MeToo. The loop needs to be closed with a commitment and an action list which I hope you will hold me accountable for, in person and online. So here goes, #HowIWillChange.

1. Recognise that I can be the bad guy without being the perpetrator, letting things slide when there is harassment is as bad as the act itself.

2. I will listen more closely to the women around me, especially those close to me, seek to understand first and then, if necessary, act.

3. Never enable any misogynistic behaviour, no matter how passive, and to not accept any excuses or diversion tactics of abusers. In private and in public.

4. Acknowledging my own capacity for this harmful behaviours and taking responsibility for it as well as my own “unlearning” of these behaviours.

5. Proactively learning more about women’s issues instead of expecting them to explain it to me in order to understand how they are impacted.

6. Call out mansplaining, and expect to be called out for mansplaining. Seriously, it must be fucking irritating and so demeaning.

7. Same with hepeating, acknowledge women more for any contribution no matter how small, and let any hepeaters know that they can’t get away with stealing ideas and expecting to be credited.

8. To not stand by quiet when women are forced to spend tons of energy to fight for or protect their own dignity or rights.

9. Acknowledge Male Privilege. The socialisation of ALL MEN, including myself, into vicisounsness andentitlement whether we act on it or not.

10. I will never blame a victim or stand by while it happens.

11. To actively switch all discussion about women from being victims where events “happen” to them and actively show the responsibility of the perpetrators.

10. Teach my daughter that she does not need to put up with any of the shit that goes on to demean and put her down. To recognise her worth and to recognise all of the above bullshit that goes on for what it is.

And finally… do all of the above without expecting praise or congratulations.

Shoutout to all the women who commented on the previous post to help me understand this and make this commitment… and, most importantly, to the women in my family who are so awesome, I have no words. I love you all.”


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The Art of Disagreeing

We’re smack bang in the middle of Holiday Season. Which means we’re going to be interacting with a lot of family and friends… and we don’t agree with some of them on a few things. Thing is, how do we avoid the awkward spiral of…
“I’m right!”
“No! I’m right!”
“I Hate you!”
“We only invited you ‘cos Mom said so. Everybody hates you. Even the dog.”
*bangs mug on table*

Cue awkward family reactions, some picking sides, some apathetic. Holiday Ruined.

So, since this is my blog, I’m going to write up how I kind of deal with these situations and a lot of it is mindset.

1. Don’t be an asshole – By this I mean, stick to the argument. No ad hominem attacks, even if they are really ugly and stupid, don’t do it. Be focused on what you’re trying to get across or understand.

2. Know Your Logical Fallacies – related to ad hominem attacks above… brush up on all the Logical Fallacies. Train yourself to get your thinking right (never a wasted pursuit).

3. Focus on understanding rather than being right – You’re a human being. You’re occasionally wrong. So, in an argument, the best way to always proceed is to get the person you’re arguing with to explain their position and you focus on listening and trying to understand their perspective.  This also means you have to get used to admitting you’re wrong if you do have the wrong end of the stick.

4. Pay attention to who you’re arguing with – Please don’t try and persuade someone the of some strongly held opinion of yours in an area where they have expertise e.g. arguing about chemotherapy with an oncologist. Recognise when you’re out of your depth and don’t argue at all. Smile and nod.

That’s it. The above guides me when I’m confronted in any way or form with this type of situation.

I hope it’s helpful.

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