My father fled the American South because of attacks like the one Liam Neeson almost carried out

Is Neeson racist? I cannot see into his heart, nor his mind. Yet the awful chasm that he has revealed to us, of his own volition, holds its own terrible history

Liam Neeson: 'I'm not racist'

My late father Ben told us a story once of having been told about a black man in his community who had been hung from a tree.

This was Mississippi, during the Depression, and a group of black boys known as the “Scottsboro Boys” were on trial for their lives because of what two white girls had said.

My dad was taught to be quiet, keep his head down. But he was so outspoken that his mother shipped him up north. To save his life.

We knew in our family, and still know, that black men were subject to racist, random violence.

Sure, a black man is usually killed by other black people. Murder is more than likely committed by those closest and nearest.

But what I’m talking about is something deeper, something that is almost a kind of template. The template of the “Black Man Who Must Be Taught A Lesson”.

There is the example of the 45th president of the United States leading a personal crusade against several innocent men, most of them black, accused of rape. The Central Park Five had long been exonerated and compensated with several million dollars, but Trump did not stop. He still has not apologised.

Nor has he expressed regret for beginning his political life with the lie that Barack Obama had not been born in the USA. Michelle Obama is right when she says that she cannot forgive him for that. Because he not only endangered the former president: Trump put the entire Obama family in jeopardy.

Just like the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam (whose own history with racism was recently unearthed through college photos of him in blackface and his old nickname “Coon Man”), Liam Neeson is a grown man. And these are grown men capable of knowing and understanding the terrible history of violence against black men.

I worry every day about my brother; my brothers-in-law; my cousins and nephews and great-nephews. Because they are black men.

Neeson is an actor. An actor is trained to pay attention to words. We now see the great revenge characters he created through the prism that he himself created for us. And it is an awful one.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

These are volatile, dangerous and delicate times. There is a kind of responsibility for all of us to think; to measure. Is Neeson racist? I cannot see into his heart, nor his mind.

Yet the awful chasm that he has revealed to us, of his own volition, holds its own terrible history.

We cannot waive it aside. We cannot forget it. It is up to each individual, I suppose, if they choose to forgive.

Neeson was just starting out then. Once, a group of Irish theatre friends told me that they were proud of him because he had been a teacher. He was a cut above. He had done real work, educating kids.

Black male teachers, working in the South, particularly during the civil rights era and before, had educated children too when it was against the segregationist law. Many did not make it; they could not take out their rage on some white stranger.

Perhaps it’s time Neeson committed to that “real work” once more, by unlearning what led him to that violent reaction in the first place.

Bonnie Greer is a playwright, novelist and critic

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in