The Problem Of Persuasion

Reacting to news articles which have made it clear that knowledge of gay relatives was a decisive factor in driving much of the politics behind marriage equality in New York, Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a shrewd observation:

Coming out to your family is a specific trauma that doesn’t really translate directly to other groups who’ve the felt the boot on their neck. If there’s a a parallel experience, it doesn’t occur to me. As indicated here, it’s often the source of great pain.

But it is also the source of great political power. People who seek to ostracize gays, must always countenance the potential for disappearing their very family members. It’s not like red-lining black people into ghettos. Homophobes must always face the prospect of condemning their own flesh and blood.

On LGBT equality, you have a virtuous circle. The more egalitarian society becomes, the more people are comfortable coming out. And the more people are out, the wider this circle of sympathy spreads. And an important question is what to do about all the other cases when it’s harder to take advantage of this kind of dynamic. The poor are often invisible to large swaths of people merely because they live on the other side of town. So what about the even poorer people who live in Bangladesh or Bolivia? Human sympathy is a tremendously powerful force, but the circumstances in which it can be mobilized are sometimes difficult to find.