No Medal for Liam Neeson

We shouldn’t be surprised.

Liam Neeson’s admission that he went looking for a ‘black bastard’ to kill after learning that the rape of his friend was committed by a black man was only shocking in so far as he admitted it.

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And no John Barnes, he doesn’t deserve a medal. If there is anything he deserves, it’s to be on a poster; a poster showing how his thoughts and actions were not unique. They were the thoughts and actions of many a self denying racist. Neeson sought to seek revenge not on the man who committed the heinous act of rape, but on any black man he came across. An innocent black man’s life was under threat because, for a week, Neeson decided that the act of one black man, justified the killing of any black person.

Neeson’s words should highlight a larger point; that the environment in which he was brought up, had an impact on how he reacted. Not everybody who grows up in an environment produced by British imperialism will feel the compunction to try and find a black person to kill as a method of revenge. Thankfully he didn’t. When black people talk about having better and more positive representation in the media, it is to combat situations like this. Had Neeson not had his bigoted upbringing in Northern Island during the ‘troubles’, perhaps his thoughts wouldn’t have gone to such a dark place. But they went there.

I don’t doubt that there are many people across the UK who heard his confession and could empathise with Neeson, having had similar thoughts on one occasion or another. While they may not admit it like Nesson, or may not have carried out their own brand of vigilante justice, those thoughts and feelings do not just disappear after talking to friends. They surface in the form of off colour jokes, burner twitter accounts, the rejection of a black Hermione Granger and ridiculous stories about Raheem Sterling. The microaggressions and subtle racism that many people of colour often talk about are the outpourings of white frustration at not being able to exact the violent revenge that may take over their thoughts. The lynchings in the US during the mid 20th century, were children were given days off school and the bodies of young black men were left to hang like Strange Fruit, were the result of whites being able to express their anger with no repercussions. To them, taking the life of any black person was justified if there was even a hint of wrongdoing. If Liam Neeson had indeed killed a black man in revenge, it would tantamount to nothing short of a modern day lynching – the killing of an innocent to appease a desire for race based revenge.

When this all happened is irrelevant. The fact that it happened is all that matters. Winston Churchill is well known for being a racist, having expressed his disgust for Indians saying, ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” However, his supporters are quick to point out that he simply held the opinions of his time. Imperialism thrived as the British Empire regarded blacks as less than human 400 years ago. Men, women and children were segregated in the United States 60 years ago because of the colour of their skin. 40 years ago Neeson wanted to kill a man for a crime he did not commit simply because he was black. The New Cross fire in 1981. Stephen Lawerence in 1993. Dylann Roof in 2015.

The opinions of the time seem to be timeless.

Of course, Liam Neeson has learned from that ‘episode’. There would be no way he would have volunteered that information if he didn’t feel as though he could declare that he is now over his racism, like a strong bout of flu. For him, it was a moment in time. For many of us, it’s a daily reality, knowing that there are people walking the streets who want to act out on thoughts that have been influenced by the media and learnt from family members and immediate communities. Their thoughts and actions may not kill us, but they may affect job prospects, our love lives, self-confidence and mental health.

Neeson was right about one thing though. There needs to be more dialogue. But not from us. We’ve marched, protested, debated, written, sung, and preached for years. To quote Reni Eddo-Lodge, ‘You can only do so much from the outside’.

And power walking won’t help.

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I Can’t Breathe

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Scrolling through my TeamStream feed this morning catching up on the weekends sport, I came across the headline ‘Giants, Yankees Step Up for Fallen NYPD Officer’. The article went on to say that the NY Yankees will be paying for the education of  murdered NYPD officer Rafael Ramos’ sons, and that the New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, wore ‘a black strip on his left arm + a peace sign under the NY on his shirt in honor of slain NYPD officers’. While these gestures will in no way make up for the loss of life, they do show that sports teams are truly supportive to victims of heinous acts like murder, brutality and domestic violence. Or are they?

After the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, many basketball and football players joined in the public outrage and showed their support of the fallen men. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Kevin Garnett and others wore the last words of Eric Garner emblazoned across their chests ‘I Can’t Breathe’.

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What happened? The NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that although he respected the players’ stance, he would prefer the players to ‘abide by our on court attire rules’. He might as well have said ‘Yeah do it, it’s good that you have those views. But post it on your Instagram or Twitter. Don’t do it on the NBAs time. We have a brand to protect. Now drink your Gatorade and make sure the cameras see’. Images Tommie Smith and John Carlos come to mind.

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5 members of the St.Louis Rams including wideouts Tayvon Austin, Kenny Britt and Jared Cook, came out of the tunnel before kick-off, and made the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ gesture in reference to the killing of Michael Brown. What did Missouri Police labelled the gesture as ‘tasteless, offensive and inflammatory’, also calling for the players to be disciplined. Disciplined?? These are grown men! No sorry… they used to call us ‘boys’. Almost forgot…

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And now 2 officers are murdered in New York, and sports teams are first on the scene to offer support.

So it’s not about looking after those affected by murder is it?

The police officers were killed in cold blood. They just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Paying for the education of the Rafael Ramos’ children is a wonderful gesture (Wenjian Liu had no children) and we all wish we saw more acts of benevolence like that in this world. Eric Garner was killed with the use of an illegal choke hold. He was the father of 6 children and 3 grandchildren. The Yankees, the Mets, the Jets, the Giants, the Nets, the Knicks, the Rangers and the Islanders are all professional sports teams in New York. No money. No apology. Don’t show any support for him at our games. We have a business to run.

It seems as though there is this undying loyalty shown towards law enforcement, where they can do no wrong in the eyes of America. They are enforce the law, and are above it at the same time. And it’s not even about race! It’s not like these 2 officers were white. But they are part of the police force. Law enforcement. There’s a reason why the word force is used rather than police team or law upholders. It means that the values they hold true, will be upheld by force. So go ahead and protest against what we do. Just know that your sports teams are on our side. Your favorite tv shows are on our side. Politicians are on our side. Speak out against us and we will force you to comply, even if it means death. We’ve got you in a choke hold.

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#icantbreathe

Aunt Jemima

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Many people know and love Aunt Jemima Pancake mix , but the history behind the brand and others like Uncle Ben, is a little less known.

The figure of Aunt Jemima is one that began with caricatures of African women namely Saartji Baartman, and was popularised through minstrel shows, memorabilia and even cartoons. Ne t time you watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon, the large Black woman who screams and lifts up her many colourful frocks is just that. A ‘mammy’.
Like Aunt Chloe in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a mammy was a jolly, head tie wearing, illiterate, overweight motherly black slave who would perform much of the childcare duties of a household or plantation. She’ll cook for you, wash your clothes, clean your mess and do it all with a smile and a song. Together with the archetypal submissive and exaggerated language, the mammy archetype helped to form the basis of many people’s attitudes to Black women in the early 20th century. The first Black person to win an Oscar went to Hattie McDaniels in 1939 whose character in Gone With the Wind was actually called Mammy.

The Aunt Jemima which is advertised today is slightly different. She has been given earrings and hair, but bares the same wide thick red lipped smile and dark complexion which was a feature of minstrels the minstrels in the 1800’s. The figure of Uncle Ben falls under the same category, the submissive older Black servant, ready to serve you that good southern cooking. Uncle Ben is more closely associated with the term Uncle Tom, or someone who will say or do anything to find favor with White people.

Are they good logos? Or  throwbacks to minstral shows? Racist? Acceptable? Maybe. Money making? Obviously.

 

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#spotthedifference

I don’t rate Rosa Parks…

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Most people know who the lady on the left is. Rosa Parks. The mother of the American Civil Rights Movement. The woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus and sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted from Dec 1 1955 to Dec 20 1956. When she passed away in 2005, she became the first woman to lie in honour at th Capitol Rotunda. What would have been Parks’ 100th birthday was even celebrated, and Obama said that ‘Rosa Parks’ singular act of disobedience launched a movement’. Although Parks’ actions will forever be remembered as a key moment in the Civil Rights movement, today is about the little girl on the right.

Claudette Colvin (Sept 5th 1939 – )

9 months before Rosa Parks made her stand (or sit), the then 15-year-old Claudette Colvin became the first person arrested for resisting the segregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama. In fact, there were 3 others who were arrested before Parks, who made up the case Browder vs Gayle in 1956. So if Colvin was the first to do what she did, why then isn’t she celebrated as highly as Parks?

Apparently, because Colvin was dark-skinned and actually gave birth to a son in Dec 1955, she wasn’t seen as a good representation for what the NAACP wanted to portray. Parks however, was a secretary at the NAACP, light-skinned and educated. Aurelia Browder (who resisted arrest 7 months before Parks) was chosen to front the case because she was middle-aged and educated. The other 4 plaintiffs consisted of 2 teenagers and 2 senior citizens. Browder was deemed as the best representation for the case.

When asked why she didn’t get up when the bus driver and then police asked her to, Colvin answers:

I could not move because history had me glued to the seat… because it felt like Sojourner Truths hands were pushing me down on one shoulder, and Harriet Tubmans hands were pushing me down on another shoulder… I yelled out “It’s my constitutional right!”

Colvin gives the occasional interview and you can watch one with her here.

I do rate Rosa Parks, just not as much as Claudette Colvin. Please forgive the almost blasphemous title.

#creditwherecreditisdue