When actor Liam Neeson admitted during a recent interview while promoting a new movie that he once went looking for an anonymous black man to kill as a way of seeking revenge for a white female friend of his being raped, it shocked the sensibilities of some.
But all Neeson was doing was revealing what has been the white man’s longtime rage: protecting his precious white woman from those savage, black brutes. It is the story of the black man in America. In the interview, Neeson said that once his friend revealed the rape, and the man’s skin color, for several days he walked the streets looking for a black man to approach him. And if that happened, he was ready to pounce, taking out his anger on any black man to serve as proxy for raping his friend.
“It took me a week, maybe a week and a half, to go through that,” he told The Independent. “She [the rape victim] would say, ‘Where are you going?’ and I would say, ‘I’m just going out for a walk.’ You know? ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘No no, nothing’s wrong.’”
He then offered a further explanation: “I come from a society–I grew up in Northern Ireland in the Troubles–and, you know, I knew a couple of guys that died on hunger strike, and I had acquaintances who were very caught up in the Troubles, and I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland’s proof of that. All this stuff that’s happening in the world, the violence, is proof of that, you know. But that primal need, I understand.”
Tuesday, in an interview on Good Morning America, Robin Roberts asked him about the controversy. “I’m not racist,” Neeson said. “This was nearly 40 years ago.”
Sorry, Liam, you don’t get off that easy.
The reason why I can’t just easily brush off Liam’s racial revenge story is that our history is filled with similar stories: white woman cries rape, and black men pay the ultimate price at the hands of the Liam Neesons of the world.
If you take a tour through history, one of the main reasons for racial separation was the fear of miscegenation–whites and blacks having interracial babies.
Some of the most hateful and vile speeches and writings by politicians, journalists and other white men in the 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s were inspired by the fear of white women being violated by black men. The thought of black men touching their pristine white women drove these white men mad, leading to acts of brutality against many across the country.
- In 1916, Jesse Washington was a black teenager working in Texas. He was accused of raping and murdering the white wife of the man whose farm he worked. Once convicted–the trial lasted an hour and the jury deliberated for four minutes–he was dragged from the courthouse and lynched in Waco, Texas. His body was burned, and his remains were dragged through town, body parts sold as souvenirs.
- The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 is legendary because of what was known as “Black Wall Street,” an area in Greenwood, Okla., where numerous black-owned businesses thrived. When a black man was accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman, white rioters went on a rampage, leading to the deaths of nearly 300 black citizens. The 35-block area that was then considered the wealthiest black community in America was totally wiped out. The Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 determined that the city conspired with the white rioters and were responsible for the destruction, but the state has refused to pay reparations to the descendants of the race riot.
- Many of us know about the Rosewood massacre because of the 1997 film directed by John Singleton and starring Ving Rhames and Don Cheadle. In 1923, the all-black town was destroyed by a mob of white men after a white woman in a nearby town was beaten and supposedly raped by a black man. The charges were never proven. But that was enough for white men to terrorize the black residents of Rosewood. The entire town was torched, and no one was ever arrested. Rosewood was never inhabited again.
- The story of the famous Scottsboro Boys riveted the nation. In 1939, nine black teenagers were falsely accused of raping two white women. Their legal fight, which attracted international attention, was intense, leading to numerous appeals and two Supreme Court decisions.
There are far more stories I could cite where accusations of rape by black men against white women led to massive violence and death of black people.
Now someone may suggest that Neeson should get a break because what he described happened 40 years ago, and he never acted on those racial fears, and admitted he was wrong. But we are still dealing with this evil.
The brutal rape of a white woman in 1989 set off racial tensions in New York City that rivaled those of the early 20th century. The viciousness against the five juveniles arrested for the crime set off hate-filled talk in newspapers, on talk radio and television. Even Donald Trump got in on the act, taking out full page ads in NYC newspapers saying the four black men and one Latino arrested should get the death penalty. Even though the men were exonerated after they went to prison, Trump to this day has still refused to apologize.
When Dylann Roof walked into a black church in Charleston, S.C. and killed nine black people at a Bible study, his white male fear was one of the reasons. This is what he told FBI agents to explain the terror: “Well, I had to do it because somebody had to do something because, you know, black people are killing white people every day on the streets, and they rape white women, 100 white women a day. The fact of the matter is what I did is so minuscule to what they’re doing to white people every day, all the time.”
The terror that white men have unleashed on black men over the course of America’s history has been devastating. Never mind the centuries black women were raped at will by their white slave masters during slavery, black people have never responded with widespread violence in retribution. The few slave rebellions were all stopped, and black men like Nat Turner were murdered and dismembered.
Liam Neeson is no hero because he sought to avenge his friend’s rape. He was willing to take the life of a black man—any black man—to serve as his way of exacting revenge. What was deep inside of him is not rare. He is just like many white men who came before him.
Roland S. Martin is host and managing editor of #RolandMartinUnfiltered, a daily digital show streamed live nightly at 6 pm EST. He is also senior analyst for the Tom Joyner Morning Show.