September 24, 2023

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Matt Marton/AP/REX/Shutterstock (10155663a) Empire actor Jussie Smollett, center, arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court Building for his hearing, in Chicago. Smollett is accused of lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack by two men on Jan. 29 in downtown Chicago Empire Cast Member Attack, Chicago, USA - 14 Mar 2019

In an audio recorded interview with British Newspaper, The Independent, actor Liam Neeson made a disturbingly racist confession that has prompted a boycott of the actor’s work. Neeson admitted that after learning of a loved one’s rape by someone she described as black, that he stormed about the city streets hoping to murder a random black person in an act of racist revenge. Neeson revealed for the first time:

“There’s something primal – God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions.

“She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way.”

“But my immediate reaction was… I asked, did she know who it was? No. ‘What color were they?’ She said it was a black person.

“I went up and down areas with a (nightstick), hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could – kill him.”

-Quoted from the Independent interview by Clémence Michallon with Liam Neeson

While Neeson denies that his behavior was racist and admits that his visceral reaction was primal instinct, his regret in no way obscures that fact that Neeson himself racialized this woman’s suffering by asking “What color were they?” His assertion that his reaction was merely the product of “something primal” when you get angry is both obtuse and disingenuous. If a white person’s gut reaction to learning of a loved one’s rape is “What color were they?” then that retort is the product of racism and racism alone. Then to proceed to search for a black person, and not even a specific black person who fits a distinctive physical description, but any random black person to inflict a racist murderous revenge, is even more disconcerting.

Neeson’s thirst for racist revenge killings is reminiscent of Dylann Roof’s 2015 murder of nine African Americans whom he shot during prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. A deeper investigation revealed that Roof was motivated to kill random innocent black people to start a race war after learning about Trayvon Martin’s murder and “black on white crime.” In his revealing manifesto published on the white supremacist website, Roof wrote: “How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?”

What both Roof and Neeson ignored is the fact that the majority of rape and homicide crimes are intraracial crimes. That is to say, the majority of rapes and murders of white people are committed by white people. The majority of rapes and murders of Latinos are committed by Latinos. The majority of rapes and murders of black people are committed by black people. For decades, FBI statistics have demonstrated that victims are most often raped or murdered by people within their own racial group.

Both Neeson’s and Roof’s racial reasoning crystallizes the notion of an irrational hysteria which fuels racism: white paranoia. This collective dread of white people who fear that the browning of American society will somehow diminish their privilege and terminate their access to resources fuels white supremacist rage and revenge attacks on innocent black people as though whiteness is in danger of extinction. The fear of extinction generates a sense of hopelessness and dread which further complicates socio-political conflict in a heightened racially divisive climate due in large part to Donald Trump and the birth of white supremacist MAGA radicals. This racist dread leads us to the unfortunate attack against black and openly gay actor, Jussie Smollett.

In the early morning of Tuesday, January 29th, Jussie Smollett reported a racist and homophobic attack to Chicago police. Smollett, who is known for his role as a gay musician on the hit TV show, Empire, disclosed that while walking back to his apartment, he was attacked by two persons, one wearing a black mask, who called him “Empire fa**ot n-word” and yelled “MAGA country” during the attack. Jussie recounted that the attackers beat him, dispensed an unidentified chemical over his head and clothing, and hung a rope or noose about his neck. Shortly after Jussie’s attack was publicized, many people rallied around Jussie and his family in support of his healing from the unnecessary racist and homophobic hate crime. However, many social media skeptics expressed their apprehension that Smollett’s story was fabricated for many reasons: 1) The area where the alleged attack was said to have taken place was so heavily surveilled that he could not have been attacked without video footage as evidence of the incident; 2) that if Jussie were truly attacked while on the phone with his manager then he would have acquiesced and turned over his phone and phone records to authorities when asked; 3) that if Jussie were out at that time of night it had to be for some sexually deviant reason which apparently suggests that in that case he deserved what happened to him; and 4) that when 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes was unnecessarily shot to death, her mother described the victim as a white man which caused racial division, yet the police arrested and charged two black suspects. All of which are ridiculous and premature conclusions in response to Jussie’s traumatic event. Since the widespread cynicism, Chicago police has publicly confirmed that Jussie has indeed always been cooperative and consistent in the investigative process. The investigation is still ongoing and I remain confident that Jussie will get the justice he so rightfully deserves.

While Jussie’s claims are met with skepticism, his hate attack forces us to confront the painful reality that in a 2019 seemingly post-racial melting pot, racial politics, racism and white paranoia have now, more than ever, transcended the red dirt landscape of the Mississippi Delta and the Deep South and made its way to the affluent bedroom communities of the urban landscape of Northside Chicago. This transcendence terrifies our black middle class psyche. If we hard-working, educated, black Americans find comfort and protection in achievement and success, and create our own success stories that will create black generational wealth for our children, then how do we reconcile this sort of vicious attack against Jussie Smollett who has reached the zenith of his career and is currently living that middle class dream? The reason so many black people doubt the veracity of Jussie’s claims is the fear that if it happened to Jussie, of all people, in democratic Illinois, and not in racist, radically conservative Mississippi, it can happen to any of us anywhere. Even though our psychological fear causes some to be skeptical of Jussie’s claim, you know what it did not do? It did not motivate black people to incite a race war and seek to inflict murderous revenge on random white people like Liam Neeson and Dylann Roof. The very ways in which black people have responded to racial trauma for hundreds of years with intellect, dignity, peaceful protest, and grace speaks to the cultural genius of black people which should serve as a model for racial harmony.

How ironic that we have this discreet interplay of two successful actors, during a crucial moment where so many people are reluctant to believe that Jussie Smollett, a gay black man, could be accosted and attacked by a racist and homophobic white MAGA radical without provocation, when, simultaneously, Liam Neeson, a white actor, admits his very real desire to not only attack, but to kill any random black person in a fit of revenge. Even without a suspect in custody and in the absence of surveillance evidence of Jussie’s attack, skeptics should still at least be able to glean from Liam Neeson’s and Dylann Roof’s white paranoia that Jussie’s claims are not as impalpable and difficult to believe as one might think. Both Neeson and Roof vividly explained what drives the white psyche to this irrational panic mode, and the rest of us non-discriminatory society, be ye black, white, Latino, Asian, or any race or ethnicity, we all have a duty to call out and condemn this particular type of racism and hatred and disallow it in our country. Dylann Roof did not simply wake up one day and decide to murder those nine black victims. His white paranoia was gradually brewing for years and was largely ignored until it culminated in the brutal killings of innocent black church-goers.

The progress of American racial and ethnic politics in years to come is contingent on how we respond to acts of racism and hatred today. Now is the time for all Americans to take a stand and condemn any and all forms of racism and homophobia. This conviction requires each of us to meet racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, and low cultural intelligence with a crushing blow. Such a conviction also requires us to believe victims who are courageous enough to share their experience with race-based hatred even in the absence of hard evidence. It is impossible for every hate crime to be recorded as evidence but now more than ever, in this racially divided country, we have reached a critical impasse where Americans are forced to unite across the political divide and commit to stamp out racial and ethnic hatred before the crisis festers and gives birth to yet another Dylann Roof.

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