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Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights Hardcover – January 17, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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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)
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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (January 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375508201
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375508202
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #465,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While I am interested in this book's subject, I'll admit that part of the reason I picked it up was the strength of its back-cover ecommendations: Barbara Ehrenreich, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and (Tiger Mom) Amy Chua. That is a very impressive and diverse lot. So, the book must be good. And it was.

Here, law professor Kenji Yoshino discusses the idea of covering, and how the demand (generally toward minority groups) to cover is in some way a violation of people's rights to liberty. What is covering? If 'passing' is the demand that people pass for something other than they are (blacks with light skin passing as white, gays pretending to be straight), 'covering' is the idea that, while you don't have to pass, you do have to keep your differences with others under wraps (blacks not acting "too black," or gays making sure not to "act too gay" in "polite company").

To discuss how covering makes life quite difficult, Yoshisno gets quite autobiographical, discussing and dissecting his own experience as a gay man who, at first, had to admit to himself that he was gay and, after that, had to navigate a world that might allow him to be gay but not allow him to (even inadvertently) draw attention to his homosexuality. So, while it has always been perfectly acceptable for straight couples to hold hands or walk arm-in-arm in public - without anyone accusing them of drawing attention to their own heterosexuality - gays who do the same thing will be readily accused of flaunting their homosexuality. Hence, while one might be allowed to be openly gay, whether to be openly gay in one's actions (and not just one's words) is often a pretty thorny question. Hence, the social demands to cover.
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