I bet Liam Neeson wished he'd kept his mouth shut and thought better about sharing how he purposely went hunting for a black man, any black man, to revenge the rape of his close friend 40 years ago.

He made the jaw dropping disclosure while being interviewed for his latest movie Cold Pursuit. The film portrays a father out to avenge the death of his son. When asked how he tapped into the mentality of revenge he told the story of how he reacted when his friend told him she was raped by a black man, unknown to her.

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Equipped with a cosh, he spent some nights in areas frequented by blacks hoping he would be approached or accosted by a black man so he could exact revenge.

Looking back what frightened him he says, was if confronted, he would have carried out what he set out to do.

The howls of outrage have reverberated around the world. He's being called a racist, which he vehemently denies. His reaction is being likened to the lynch mob mentality and worse.

Liam Neeson, left, appeared on
Liam Neeson, left, appeared on "Good Morning America," one day after he told an interviewer that he had violent thoughts about killing a black person. Photo/ AP

He said he doesn't know where the overwhelming feeling for revenge came from but admits it must have been there back then, just under the surface.

The problem with sharing a story like this is that people will see it from their own perspective, world view, and their experiences too. Some black commentators are praising him for his honesty. They say there is nothing unusual about his reaction as this is what society has wrongly shown "black people do".

Others asked what if a black actor said something similar. Would he get away with it?

Neeson believes racism is always just below the surface, "it's everywhere".

I remember looking aghast at Theo. Our friend called in to see us one day after attending a Colonisation workshop. He was so wound up, declared he wanted to shoot the "bastards". Pakehas.


I should have come to the workshop he said, heard what happened in our country since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. No, it went back even further than that, what happened to Maori. Did I know, he wanted to know? He rattled off the chronology of events that took place.

The various Acts of Parliament, racist systems, discriminatory attitudes, colonialist and missionary collusion. Did I know the cumulative effects these had on Maori? Their language, culture, lands, way of life.

Recent history wasn't much better. Loss of economic opportunities, iwi Maori aspirations and social advancement. He kept going. The constant undermining that occurred, the systematic racism.

I was stunned that he was shocked. Yet I suppose I shouldn't have been. Over the years I educated myself on early New Zealand history. Our education system has been woeful in this area.

Thousands of children are denied the opportunity to learn their own country's history, the Treaty of Waitangi in particular. The important role it should have played in the past in shaping New Zealand. I feel New Zealanders have been shortchanged. Our settler stories are important glimpses into the past so too are the stories of Maori.

Their settlements, tribal history and iwi relationships throughout Aotearoa. I wanted to know more so just went searching.

Years later some of my work required a more in-depth understanding of the Treaty. I attended as many workshops as I could to ensure I had the knowledge to be effective in my job.

Throughout my learning, I never once felt the urge to go out and harm Pakeha. "Getting even" is more to my liking. Encouraging education to ensure what happened in the past can never be repeated.

My friend is a kind, considerate and generous New Zealander. I don't think he realised what he was saying when he let rip with his outburst. I do recall he didn't seem to hear to a word I said.

At that moment he was consumed with the unfairness of it all. Our history. It could have been so different if the Crown had acted honourably, he lamented.

Was he racist because of what he wanted to do? I don't think so. I never saw anything in his behaviour, before or since to suggest he is. We can get outraged from time to time and make emotional statements when we see injustice. I'm not worried about those who want to bare their soul or offload. The racists I look out for are the covert ones.

They think they go undetected, but the language they use and the behaviours they exhibit give them away when you know what to look for. The sooner we understand "all lives matter" irrespective of racial background, the more likely we are to have open and honest conversations. No shutdowns. It all starts with preparedness to listen with a willingness to understand.

Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua district councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness