Liam Neeson, yesterday, gave an interview to the British newspaper, The Independent. He gives a testimony, affirming his humanity, in all of its ugly glory and his reward? To be called a racist and to be asked to consider the feelings of ‘an innocent black man knowing that he could have been killed’. Like Kevin Hart before him, Neeson is being asked to consider the feelings of those he may have hurt who, heretofore, had no knowledge of, interest in or concern for his actions. I am not a fan of cheap or political apologies. I don’t believe that people should apologize for hypothetical pain; pain is very real, visceral and tangible. You can objectively count its victims. It is not amorphous and vague, lacking real effects or clear connections. Holding strangers guilty for the possible distress they might have caused makes as much sense as demanding redress for the punch that could have hit you in the face. We live in a time where victimization is a fast track to a public platform, so we shouldn’t be surprise that it’s becomes more attractive to be in the cross hairs.
A metaphorical tale
Imagine a scenario:
You decide to have a barbecue and extend an invitation to everyone on your block; some you know well, others not so much, but if they want to come, great! The more, the merrier. You make calls, send e-vites and even go so far as to make flyers, so that as many as are able will come and have a good time. The date of the barbecue fast approaches. You make all your preparations: Ribs? Check! Burgers? Check! Hot dogs? Check! Sides, condiments, entertainment; you have beyond covered all your bases and spent a pretty penny along the way, but that’s not the point, enjoying yourself is.
The sun rises on your big day and you can’t wait for your guests to arrive and when they do, you greet them warmly and make sure they are well fed. You spot an unknown sour face in the crowd and watch as they make a beeline into your personal space. They shove a plate of food under your neck and demand to know what it is. Confused and unwilling to state the obvious, you reply, ‘what’s it look like?’
‘I can’t eat it’, they snarl back, ‘It could kill me! I’m allergic! I could have gone into anaphylactic shock.’ You take a moment to process; surely they don’t think you went out of your way to serve them something poisonous.
‘I didn’t know it was a problem.’
‘Well, now you do. Throw it out!’
‘Now you know it’s a problem. You should throw it out.’
‘But I like it and so do my other guests.’
‘Well, I’m a guest too! And since this stuff could kill me, you shouldn’t have it around.’
‘I got a better idea. I’ve got other stuff. Why don’t you try that?’
‘Good point. You have other stuff, so you don’t need this!’
‘This is a barbecue. Why are you surprised that this is here?’
The conversation didn’t even have a chance to go left because it already started there. You watch in a combination of awe and horror as they throw out their plate, others’ and, with the lightning quick reflexes of a professional athlete, grab the serving tray of the offending dish and pile drive it into the grass. It’s bad enough they’re making a scene, but they’ve also made others so uncomfortable that, though they’ve enjoyed the festivities thus far, they’d rather be away from all the noise and aggravation.
‘All of this for one dish’, you think to yourself as they parade around your backyard, unwilling to leave despite the fact that the threat is now completely inedible, covered in grass and mud.
Eight years later, a stranger comes knocking on your door inquiring about the infamous barbecue. You decided some time ago to avoid serving that dish. It makes life easier and you have more than enough to work with, so it was easy to cut from the menu. Irritated, the stranger condemns you for daring to serve a dish that could kill someone and are stunned by your inconsideration and callousness toward the guest. You remind them that years have passed since then and you’ve had numerous barbecues, with little incident. And either way, what does it matter now? You weren’t there.
‘That’s not the point! I could have been.’
The next thing the stranger sees is your closed door.
Freedom of speech is a complicated right, but it’s a right nevertheless. I’m an advocate of removing myself from situations where the language is not to my liking or in circumstances where I have a relationship with the person, I make a comment/request. I don’t demand from strangers, famous or not, that they keep my sensitivities in my mind when they speak.
Has anyone ever considered that the jokes being called ‘homophobic’ now, weren’t really making fun of his son, but were really making fun of his fear? His out of proportion reaction is what made the joke funny, and in an exaggerated way, points to how ridiculous he was being.