Liam Neeson’s Ugly Admission and What We Can Learn From It (Podcast)

How should we deal with admissions of past racism?

Last Updated: February 9, 2019 @ 9:41 AM

Liam Neeson drew international attention with his admission that for a brief time, years ago, he walked the streets looking for an excuse to kill a random black man because of his anger over a friend’s rape. On the latest “Low Key” podcast, we talk about the insidious and deadly lies that fed his mindset, and how we can all learn from his decision to speak out now. You can listen on Apple or right here:

It’s a laugh-to-keep-from-crying conversation that bounces from Neeson to Trayvon Martin to Jussie Smollet to why growing up on an island that’s 96 percent white might make you susceptible to some backward views on race. We also talk about some of the ways the news media coverage of Neeson’s admission could have been better.

Just when we’re about to sign off, we instead go into a deep dive about the long, long history of white people using accusations of aggression by one black man to justify horrific behavior against large numbers of African-Americans. If this subject interests you, we’d recommend reading up on Rosewood, Florida and the Scotsboro case, to start.

We’d also recommend reading the interview in which Neeson first volunteered that after a friend was raped, he pressed her for details about the attacker — specifically his race.

After she told him he was black, Neeson said he walked the streets with a cosh, or stick. The Independent quoted him:

“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could,” another pause, “kill him.”

Those remarks drew widespread disgust. But on the podcast we also talk about Neeson’s words from the same interview that drew less attention: “It’s awful. … But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the f— are you doing,’ you know?”

On every episode of “Low Key,” my co-hosts Keith Dennie and Aaron Lanton and I talk about facets of pop culture stories we think most people have missed. This week, we try to put Neeson’s remarks in historical perspective, and talk about why they recalled a long history of bigotry. And Aaron asks: Where are the calls for Neeson to apologize, like the ones Kevin Hart received after past homophobic tweets?

We also talk about how we should respond to people to confess to past racism — and look for ways we can all learn to handle these situations better. It’s an especially relevant question in a week in which two Virginia politicians confessed to past use of blackface.

If the episode sounds unbearably depressing, well… we were surprised how much we found to laugh about in the middle of a very ugly story.

“I just can’t believe Qui-Gon Jinn would go to the Dark Side like that,” Keith says at the end of the episode.

If you like what you hear, please let us know on Apple, which is the ideal place to leave us feedback. Thanks!