Homophobia, racism, and the value of inexact analogies

I got quite a bit of traffic from Reddit over the weekend for my post about excuses for homophobia vs. excuses for racism, but it didn’t come from /r/atheism but from /r/lgbt. That’s great! But there was one comment in the Reddit thread complaining about “appropriationism,” linking to a post titled “Queer History vs. Black History,” which is also linked in the banner of /r/lgbt, so apparently it’s gotten some traction there.

The Queer History vs. Black History post makes some good points about the differences between the two movements. But I think it would be misguided as a response to what I had written, or as a response to a lot of other cases of using examples from the race issue to make a point about gay rights.

The key thing here is that when you’re talking about topic A and use an example from topic B to make a point about topic A, topics A and B don’t have to be perfectly analogous. They never are. What you need to check for, rather, is whether your example does what you want it to do in the point you’re making.

For example: if someone is saying it’s wrong to judge anyone for their opinions, wrong to tell them “that’s not acceptable,” wrong to not associate with someone over their opinions, the case of racism is a serious challenge to that claim. Similarly, if someone is claiming that if something is a deep conviction it can’t be bigoted, racism is a serious challenge to that claim.

Those were the points I was making with my last post. And this wouldn’t be worth explaining at length if it were just one Reddit comment confused about this, but I’ve seen this before: people complain about perfectly logical examples if the analogy isn’t perfect in every way. Understanding why that isn’t a problem may be an actual benefit I’ve gained from studying philosophy.

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