Back to Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson started a vital debate. To condemn him is to end it

In one brief interview, Neeson made a horrible admission that once, when he was told that a friend had been raped by a black man, he went out with a cosh looking to murder any random black male whom he saw as offensive. Apparently he did this for a week. Not exactly what we might describe as an enlightened response, and it has drawn a lot of drool among the commentariat.

Rightly, that sort of behaviour has been condemned, but Neeson wasn’t boasting about it, he regretted it. He owned up when he could have stayed silent, and said he had been wrong. Commentators have taken the opportunity to condemn Neeson, while not considering whether Neeson had gone through some sort of evolution from the prat that was, to the man that is.

If Neeson has, in fact, undergone an evolution from being a racist pig to a decent human being, that’s worth commenting on and exploring, to understand how it happens.

I recall myself in primary school. It was a Catholic primary, and I was the child of Polish parents who immigrated as refugees during WWII. There was one girl in my class, indeed in the whole school – this was early 60s Scotland where almost everyone was white – who was black. I remember her name, though I forget the rest.

Now, my memory of those days is clouded and incomplete, but I remember at one point making some remark to my mother about her that must have been racist, presumably picked up from attitudes at the school. I don’t recall what it was, but I remember the reaction. Mother came down on me like a ton of bricks. She called me out, she berated me, and called me some gross names for saying what I said.

Now that, unlike racism, stayed with me. I can say at that point, I evolved my views, because mother had told me me I was a total shit for holding them. Racism is abhorrent, but endemic in society. As individuals, we reflect society and prevailing views. I can see that a story like Leeson’s should be used as a model for evolution of attitudes, not as a vehicle to condemn Leeson.

Were Leeson still a racist, I could understand the condemnation. The point is, where is he now, and I think it’s not where he was while being a racist prat. We can learn from this that people can evolve, they can expand their views, and they can change. That’s encouraging.

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