Picking Your Battles Wisely
It may surprise some to know that I am not clutching the pearls over what Liam Neeson said. In fact, I am kind of appreciative of him revealing such. Yes, I think he is suffering from old, privileged guy, tone-deafness, but no, I don’t think he is a good candidate to be drawn and quartered in the name of fighting racism.
As far as I am concerned, Neeson is doing what I am asking all people of privilege to do; look inside themselves and name and claim the thoughts and behaviours they have or have had that are bigoted, prejudiced, racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic. I have no use for allies who are not willing to do this work, nor do I trust ANYONE who pretends they have never had even so much as a stray thought. I am not perfect, nor do I expect perfection from those around me. I expect that when you know better you will do better.
From what I heard, Neeson is not Trump. He did not defend or justify his behaviour, if fact, as I understand it, he claimed it as a shameful moment in his life. While I think such disclosures are better suited to intimate settings, where dialogue can foster healing and growth, Neeson’s willingness to declare himself publicly offers an opportunity for people who see themselves in him, to check themselves.
We social justice warriors need to really think about what we are doing when we seek to shame and ostracize a person like this. Would you want your life reduced to your one worst moment? Given some of the foolishness in my youth, I certainly don’t. Moreover, I want leaders who have been there, done that, and learnt some shit, rather than cloistered missionaries who think they know what is best for me.
After all, if we are ever going to understand what drives a person to behave this way and find the keys to changing such behaviour for good, we need to have people, who have been them and seen the light, share their stories.
To demonstrate this from a different context, I think about gangs. My city was once rocked by street gangs. What turned the tide was when youth started to get out of the gangs, tell their stories and seek opportunities to help other youth avoid the trap. Are there still gangs in Montreal? Sure, but nowhere near the presence that it was at its peak.
We need to distinguish between people like Neeson, who is coming clean with contrition, admitting to privilege and having committed a racist act, vs people like Kavanaugh & Trump, who look back with a shrug (The boys will be boys lobby) and/or perform contrition when caught, then go back to the same old same old.