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Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights [Kindle Edition]

Kenji Yoshino
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In this remarkable and elegant work, acclaimed Yale Law School professor Kenji Yoshino fuses legal manifesto and poetic memoir to call for a redefinition of civil rights in our law and culture.

Everyone covers. To cover is to downplay a disfavored trait so as to blend into the mainstream. Because all of us possess stigmatized attributes, we all encounter pressure to cover in our daily lives. Given its pervasiveness, we may experience this pressure to be a simple fact of social life.
Against conventional understanding, Kenji Yoshino argues that the demand to cover can pose a hidden threat to our civil rights. Though we have come to some consensus against penalizing people for differences based on race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, and disability, we still routinely deny equal treatment to people who refuse to downplay differences along these lines. Racial minorities are pressed to “act white” by changing their names, languages, or cultural practices. Women are told to “play like men” at work. Gays are asked not to engage in public displays of same-sex affection. The devout are instructed to minimize expressions of faith, and individuals with disabilities are urged to conceal the paraphernalia that permit them to function. In a wide-ranging analysis, Yoshino demonstrates that American civil rights law has generally ignored the threat posed by these covering demands. With passion and rigor, he shows that the work of civil rights will not be complete until it attends to the harms of coerced conformity.
At the same time, Yoshino is responsive to the American exasperation with identity politics, which often seems like an endless parade of groups asking for state and social solicitude. He observes that the ubiquity of the covering demand provides an opportunity to lift civil rights into a higher, more universal register. Since we all experience the covering demand, we can all make common cause around a new civil rights paradigm based on our desire for authenticity–a desire that brings us together rather than driving us apart.
Yoshino’s argument draws deeply on his personal experiences as a gay Asian American. He follows the Romantics in his belief that if a human life is described with enough particularity, the universal will speak through it. The result is a work that combines one of the most moving memoirs written in years with a landmark manifesto on the civil rights of the future.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Seldom has a work of such careful intellectual rigor and fairness been so deeply touching. Yoshino, a law professor at Yale and a gay, Asian-American man, masterfully melds autobiography and legal scholarship in this book, marking a move from more traditional pleas for civil equality to a case for individual autonomy in identity politics. In questioning the phenomenon of "covering," a term used for the coerced hiding of crucial aspects of one's self, Yoshino thrusts the reader into a battlefield of shifting gray areas. Yet, at every step, he anticipates the reader's questions and rebuttals, answering them not only with acute reasoning, but with disarming humility. What emerges is an eloquent, poetic protest against the hidden prejudices embedded in American civil rights legislation—legislation that tacitly apologizes for "immutable" human difference from the white, male, straight norm, rather than defending one's "right to say what one is." Though Yoshino recognizes the law's potential to further (and hinder) liberty's cause, he admits that his "education in law has been an education in its limitations." Hence, by way of his unsparing accounts of self-realization, he reveals that the struggle against oppression lies not solely in fighting an imagined, monolithic state but as much in intimate discourse with the mother, the father and the colleague who constitute that state. As healing as it is polemical, this book has tremendous potential as a touchstone in the struggle for universal human dignity. (Jan. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Yoshino's memoir-cum-treatise combines a provocative examination of the current state of civil rights with an account of his experiences as a gay Japanese-American. Arguing that discrimination now targets "the subset of the group that fails to assimilate to mainstream norms," Yoshino describes a phenomenon that he calls "covering": the pressure exerted on racial minorities to "act white," the social acceptance offered to gays as long as they don't "flaunt" their identities, the ways women in the workplace are expected to camouflage their lives as mothers. Exploring the history of civil-rights litigation in the United States, Yoshino concludes that courts have too often focussed on individuals' capacity to assimilate, rather than on the legitimacy of the demand that they do so.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
80 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply. revolutionary January 22, 2006
Revolutionary is not a word that I often or easily apply to the books that I read. Some books, while entertaining, do not adjust my world view or even how I view myself. Some books which set out to adjust my world view or self-preception, don't, because of a wealth of technical jargon or a "so out there" premise that I can't wrap my brain around it. However, some books are written so that they are simply stunning, beautiful, and true, revolutionary; that after you finish them, you see yourself, the world, and your thinking dramatically changed. This is one such book, written by law professor Kenji Yoshino, called "Covering".

"Covering" is essentially a book about Civil Rights, its past, present, and future, and what role the law has played in this epic American struggle. In a stroke of brilliance, Yoshino intertwines his own personal coming-out story in between the pages; in a beautiful and quite amazing blend of memoir and history and jurisprudence.

Yoshino traces the movements of the struggle of civil rights by suggesting there are three phases that groups transverse through to attain their place "at the table". The first, conversion, suggests that the member of the group needs to not be themselves but "convert" to the norm. The second phase, "passing", suggests that we accept ourselves, but do not acknowledge it to others. Finally, after becoming public, "covering" is the phase in which we purposefully steer away from things that are related to our group so as not to fall into stereotypes of our group. Yoshino not only suggests that individuals travel through these phases, which he so wonderfully illustrates with episodes from his own poignant life, but the larger groups as a whole travel through these phases as they seek for identity.
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40 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary book January 30, 2006
By Natasha
In this extraordinary and beautiful book, Kenji Yoshino contends that covering (the term is borrowed from Erving Goffman) is the civil rights issue of our age. Drawing on actual cases, he persuasively illustrates that the courts fail to protect men and women who refuse to "cover," mute, or conceal those aspects of their identities that are socially stigmatized (i.e. their gayness, their status as mothers, their racial identities). If this were all the book did, it would be significant enough. But Yoshino combines his legal and historical arguments with a memoir in which he "uncovers" his various selves--his lawyer self, his gay self, his Asian American self, and his poetic self. In doing so, he empowers his readers to do the same and to think about the connection between living one's own life honestly and the larger project of human emancipation.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In lucid terms that escape the legalese that burdens related books, Yale Law School professor Kenji Yoshino discusses a topic that I never really knew had a formal definition. He describes "covering" as the purposeful act of toning down a "disfavored identity" to fit into the mainstream. Since notions of disfavored identities can get subjective, anyone can cover, whether people are members of ethnic minority groups hiding specific cultural behaviors or even white males hiding less discernible problems such as depression, alcoholism or backgrounds that embarrass them. Consequently, given the pervasiveness of such behavior, covering would seem comparatively innocuous, but Yoshino provides ample evidence that covering is a hidden assault on our civil rights. Moreover, it is becoming more of a civil rights issue as the nation's courts struggle with an increasingly multi-ethnic America.

His penetrating book is a hybrid between a revelatory memoir and a level-headed treatise on the unacceptability of the current legal doctrine around our civil rights. Toward the latter point, Yoshino discusses covering within the broader context of often egregious civil rights injustices. As he explains it, the courts are mired in group-based identity politics and driven by calls for equality. For example, to sue successfully under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment, a group claiming discrimination has one of two options. First, the group could argue that it has been denied a fundamental right, like the right to vote. Alternatively, it can contend that the law in question employs a suspect classification, i.e., that the law unjustly singles out a particular group.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
It's unfortunate that I only get to say that Professor Yoshino's book is the "best book I've read in a year." That, if anything underestimates how pathbreaking this memoir/proposal is, but unfortunately for the good professor I read Democracy and Distrust last year, and it's tough to top that.

In any event, Professor Yoshino's book is powerfully written and intellectual engaging. Perhaps its greatest contribution is its noble endeavor to show how Covering affects ALL of us, not just the marginalized or disenfranchised. Everybody covers, and everybody is harmed by it. Far from diluting his claim, this frank admission offers a way out from traditional civil rights discourse, which is increasingly viewed as provincial, dogmatic, and overly combative. Even people who are sympathetic to traditional (and more radical) civil rights efforts recognize this problem--the "race to the bottom" by which anybody who wants to comment on marginalization has to show how S/he personally has been suppressed by the system. But oppression is cross-cutting: the population of black third-world atheist lesbian disabled midgets is rather small, but the number of people who are forced in some ways to deny who they are is much larger. Yoshino, as one unsympathetic commentator pointed out, is in many ways a child of privilege--getting to attend elite private schools and teaching at a top university. But on the other hand, he clearly has faced his share of marginalization--Asian-American homosexuals are not exactly at the pinnacle of social acceptance. By offering a way to incorporate everybody into the fight for the authentic self, Yoshino can help bring back into the fold those oft-maligned "children of privilege" who are sympathetic to the goal of social equality, but have been left unsure of their status in the fight for that goal.

I salute his efforts, and admire his erudite contribution to this critical conversation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking
This is both timely and powerful, drawing on legal precedent and a careful study of court cases while using Yoshino's own experiences with race and sexual identity to humanize the... Read more
Published 26 days ago by Joel Kramer
4.0 out of 5 stars on what life is like for all stripes of gay people in America
"Covering, The Assault on Our Civil Rights" is a compact and meticulously researched book by Kenji Yoshino, a gay Japanese law professor. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Terry Baker Mulligan
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book in great condition and it arrived early before...
This is a great book in great condition and it arrived early before classes started. It was cheaper than the book store and plus they ran out at one point.
Thanks a lot!
Published 4 months ago by tristrin
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly original, eye-opening, and compelling account of what it...
A masterpiece. A gem. A must-read. Professor Yoshino brilliantly weaves a moving personal narrative into a compelling and original account of discrimination, equality and social... Read more
Published 7 months ago by M
5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous read!
As a queer identified person, this book speaks to the heart of the journey of LGBT people. As a political science student with a fascination for the law this book spoke to my... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Dante Tavolaro
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book
Lucid argument that acceptance of differences proceeds in three stages, all of which must be overthrown to achieve parity - conversion, passing and covering.
Published 10 months ago by ELIZABETH PAGE
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening and jaw-dropping
Amazing, absolutely amazing. This book will make you look differently at issues regarding social suppression and civil rights! Read more
Published 15 months ago by Thomas van den Boezem
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, well-written, and establishing a conceptual framework...
This is a thoughtful, well-written and insightful conceptualization of the impact of conversion, passing, and covering - the process that most not in the majority culture deal... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Peter Papallo
5.0 out of 5 stars Kenji Yoshino
Yoshino , was very graphic , detailed all of his experiences , as well as analyzed Covering. He did a wonderful job summarizing it, but made it an interesting read as well... Read more
Published 19 months ago by cristina
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncovering a delightful book
The combination of profound knowledge, autobiography and philosophy of law is unique.
An inspiring book, and an utterly sympathetic man.
Published 19 months ago by W.H.van Duyl
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