Liam Neeson affair highlights the racism in our society

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Robina Qureshi says Liam Neeson's remarks have lifted the lid on the sewer of racism in the UK

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8th February 2019 by TFN Guest 2 Comments

Liam Neeson’s words must have brought a chill to Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen. It was that sentiment - looking for a black man to kill - that killed her son. 

Stephen was a young man of great promise, he was targeted and killed by a group of white youths just because of the colour of his skin. He was stabbed twice to the upper torso. Major blood vessels were severed. He was mortally wounded, he staggered to his feet but collapsed on the pavement and died shortly afterwards in hospital.

Whether or not Neeson is racist is less important, he has already admitted to racially profiling people at airport security as recently as 2014, so his racism is an issue he needs to address.

Maybe he has been told yes too often and been protected too much, letting him think it was acceptable to make these comments. But his words reveal how racists think, the impact they can have on people and what lies beneath the veneer of our so-called tolerant society. 

While we - and large sections of the hypocritical and racist British press - are condemning Liam Neeson for revealing his racism, our society should take this opportunity to have a good look at itself.

Neeson was talking to a journalist about his latest movie Cold Pursuit. During the conversation, he revealed an incident 40 years ago when a friend’s rape made him want to kill any black man who crossed his path. It was a shocking revelation. His comments led to the cancelling of a New York Red Carpet event on Tuesday to promote his movie.

Robina Qureshi

Robina Qureshi

You will never read tabloid headlines about why the white community produces 90% of the sex offenders in the UK - asking why white Christians won't apologise for Jimmy Saville

His point seems to have been that he knew what it felt like to seek revenge and act like a racist, but in relating this story he wasn't displaying vulnerability but a degree of white privilege - the knowledge that you can talk freely about stalking, killing or profiling people from another group, without suffering any consequences.

In some ways this is very useful - it can't be swept under the carpet, as it comes from a major Hollywood star, rather than someone who can hide behind a police uniform or a racist tabloid headline. Neeson has confirmed to every black person who ever wondered if it is 'because they were black', that it certainly is.

Racism is blaming and persecuting a whole community for the actions of one individual based only on their common background, colour, nationality or religion.

However, what is doubly disturbing reading all the press “backlash against Neeson” headlines is their rank hypocrisy - Neeson’s comments actually reflect how many sections of the media report on minorities.

How often have you read negative news stories about refugees, immigrants and Muslims, that pointedly mention their colour, immigration status or religion? When the alleged criminal is black, Muslim, refugee or immigrant, then the story becomes ALL about that - everyone else from the same community is blamed and expected to apologise.

The far-right present this as proof of the criminal tendencies of whole communities. Yet you will never read tabloid headlines and soul-searching pieces about why the white community produces 90% of the sex offenders in the UK - asking why white Christians won't apologise for Jimmy Saville. The EDL or BNP are rarely confronted by the press for the disproportionate amount of child abusers in their ranks. White Christians were not held collectively responsible for the mass murdering white, Christian Anders Brevik. Colour or religion are never a consideration unless the perpetrator is a minority. Not only is it imbalanced, it is racist.

For a long time now, sections of the media and that bastion of respectability, BBC Question Time has been legitimising the lies of the far right, arguably to the cost of Britain’s place in Europe.

They have given undue air time to racists and not fact checked or challenging their assertions. Celebrity racists have capitalised on their notoriety and found a niche amongst the chattering classes by portraying their racial abuse as free speech.

They are promoted on current affairs shows and given opinion pieces in newspapers. They brag about their thousands of Twitter “followers” as if they are prophets.

In the 1990s, incitement to racism used to be called out regularly, newspaper editors had to apologise in writing and be careful. Today these articles are routine, drip fed and updating every few minutes on the internet. A lie spreads around the world in seconds, while the apology can appear weeks later, long after the damage is done.

While Neeson may be pilloried for his racism, there seems little hope, in the present climate, of the news media acknowledging their systematic bias, complicity and continuing enabling of racism and fascism - distorting our society with a relentless negative narrative that has dangerous consequences for minorities.

Robina Qureshi is director of Positive Action in Housing.

12th February 2019 by Martin

We all know that what we now universally refer to as racism was common, open and "enjoyed" in our society during the period of Liam Neeson hunting for a black person to kill. In his case it's magnified by what was happening in Ireland at that time, and had been for decades.I don't condone anything Neeson says he did or tried to do, but Robina Qureshi has a perspective that lacks depth and understanding of where our society is starting from.I grew up in the 70s. I made racist comments back then. We all did even if we didn't understand the impact of them. Those same comments I'd now step in to stop if I heard someone else say them now. I've learned the comments aren't the correct way to refer to fellow humans. But I learned. Am I still a racist? Some would say yes, some would say no. Like Neesom, I was a product of my upbringing and environment and I'm not to be condemned for a way I acted 40 years ago, if we take that root, you shouldn't employ me as I can't be trusted. I got caught at the age of 10 nicking sweets from Woollies. (Who didn't?). Once a thief always a thief? No. Lets not let the hysteria of the likes of Robina Qureshi colour the discussion.

12th February 2019 by Tiiu Miller

I was waiting to read how the writer recommended we should now view Neeson's former attitude in view of his strong present condemnation of it. But no, if I had not heard this story elsewhere I would never have guessed that there was any change in his attitude. That is grossly unfair, and almost constitutes libel. And misses the most interesting part of the story. When do we accept repentance and forgive? Is it fair to condemn anyone for what they did 40 years ago when they repent of it? if not, what about 4 years ago? 4 months? Or does the time interval not matter, but whether they are sincere now or not. To those who would never forgive their lack of humanity is surely as bad as racism. ' There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over 99 just persons.' - rough quote from the Bible.