If you are a person of color, particularly if your skin and features are not racially deceiving, there is usually a “talk” your parents will have with you at a very young age. “Don’t let anyone mess with you.” “You’re going to have to work twice as hard, just to get half as far.” “You can’t go here or there.” As a Latin American woman, I have heard this my whole life and was not taught to, but grew to understand, that I can almost never let my guard down.
“I mean any time you’re different or you stand out, you got that ‘x’ on your back,” said Neil Holmes, a Black 32-year-old man who is a champion and legend in the very white-dominated sport of bull riding.
While I will never know what it is to be a Black person in this world, I can sympathize on the level that I know what it is like to have a big “x” on my back. I think there is this misconception that the country and world is racially tolerant, so much so that things are somehow safe for minorities, Black people in particular.
To counter and disprove that very inaccurate and ignorant idea, there is an abundance of stories — one like the recent controversy of Liam Neeson. In an with The Independent, Neeson admitted to looking for a “Black b******” in the streets to kill in the wake of finding out his close friend was raped by a Black man. While Neeson says this is a story that showcases blinded revenge, it is not — it showcases the hand-in-hand walk with racism many are unaware they are taking.
Neeson says he is not racist, but it is important for him, and others, to understand that what he admitted to doing years ago was, in fact, racist. He could have asked how old the man was, how tall, etc., but instead all he cared about was that he was Black.
There is this history that Gary Younge and Spike Lee both touch on when commenting on this Neeson story. Younge explains how “the threat of the violation of white women by Black men — both real and, more often, imagined — has long stood at the core of racist tropes and atrocities.” Lee, in an interview with BBC echoed Younge, saying that the KKK was formed to “save white Southern womanhood.” He continues, “Who knows how many innocent Black men have been murdered, castrated, lynched or hung or spent time in jail only because a white woman said that a Black man raped her.”
If it were a white man to have raped Neeson’s friend, he would not have walked around looking for a “white b******” to kill because that means he could have easily killed himself, a relative or a friend.
“I mean anytime you’re different or you stand out, you got that ‘x’ on your back” — it is not paranoia, it is the reality of our world. Neeson was not looking for the perpetrator of his friend’s rape, he was looking to kill any innocent Black man, as he linked the sins of one man on the color of his skin deeming the entire community as savage, violent, barbarous and not human.
Part of white privilege is not understanding what it is to be linked to and held a slave to the sins of one person. There aren't people walking around ready to kill any white man they find on the street because of Ted Bundy. It is understood, to stereotype an entire race like that is inhumane and unfair. But somehow this does not apply to Black people because as Younge explains “for some people, Black men are still not yet human.”
Younge explains how “the sanctity of Black life has yet to be settled. When some white people look at us they see anything from a misplaced grievance to a cautionary tale. What they do not see are human beings. We are still fair game.”
Younge speaks to the reality of the Black experience that Neeson and many others cannot grasp. The dehumanization of Black life is a vital part of Younge’s opinions piece. That dehumanization of Black people, and all minorities for that matter, is subconsciously engraved in the minds of many people.
Unless people call things for what they are — racist — and stop validating racism and diminishing it, they will live unknowingly as monsters who contribute to some of the greatest evils of our world. The Neeson interview does not showcase revenge, it showcases the threat people who are unaware of their own racism and dehumanizing ideals continue to pose on this world.
Breana Omana is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in political science. Her column, "Left Brain, Right Brain," runs on alternate Tuesday's.
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