Forgiveness privilege

So it looks a lot like I’m struggling to write things that are fun or sexy at the moment, so instead here’s a few thoughts on Liam Neeson and the weird privilege of forgiveness.

For anyone who hasn’t heard (nice rock you’ve got there, can I come hide under it for a while too? Please?). Neeson recently gave an interview in which he reported how after a female friend was raped by a black person he took to stalking the streets at night trying to get into a fight with some “black bastard” in order to have an excuse to kill them.

There’s a lot to unpack here. First and most obvious is the horrific racism. In fact there’s very little to deconstruct on that part, or at least little insight that I can offer, it’s just straight up inexcusable; targeting black people for random violence/murder is physically sickening.

Second is that,how can I put this, Liam Neeson is clearly a terrible friend! Of all the things that hsi friend was looking for when she confided in him, I’m pretty sure that vigilante random lynching wasn’t high on the list. I’d probably go so far as to say that that as a possible response probably won’t have occurred to a lot of people. And if you’re in a position where people should be cautious about telling you things in case you straight up go out and randomly murder people then you are an awful person and a really bad friend.

Third, let’s just take a moment to acknowledge the role of toxic masculinity in this tapestry of fail. One of the things that’s most upsetting about modern standards of masculinity is that the only negative emotions that men are encouraged to show are anger and, by extension, violence. I’m not going to seek to write it off as the only factor here or paint it as any less of an individual moral failing, but Neeson’s response is chillingly close to those of the characters he’s portrayed in various revenge/murder films. The connection here is so stark as to be really unsettling.

Last, and coming back around to the racism, there’s also a shocking amount of privilege on display here. Think for a moment if this had been a black actor confessing to looking at killing random white men? Or a woman looking at responding with random violence over a friend’s sexual assault? their career would be over. In a snap. In all likelihood the police might open a retroactive investigation just to be on the safe side.

But Neeson acknowledged that this thing he did was bad. And surely it’s important to have space to let people acknowledge bad things that they have done and s use them as a way of examining what led them there? Ugh, well, hhhnnnn, kinda, but not really no. Because Neeson hasn’t actually risked anything. He admitted this very publicly knowing full well that there are unlikely to be any repercussions for him. Because we’re in a society where still someone like Neeson gets praise for his bravery in saying he nearly straight-up lynched a random innocent person. Where James Dean is back working in the porn industry whereas Bill Cosby is in prison.