Covering : the hidden assault on our civil rights

by Kenji Yoshino

Paper Book, 2006


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. 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.… (more)



Call number



New York : Random House, c2006.

User reviews

LibraryThing member dono421846
To be honest, I expected more given the hype surrounding this book. Well-written, the first two of three parts is largely autobiographical in which Yoshino describes the existential angst in which he wallowed despite a life of privilege. The connecting thread of his narrative is a line he lifts
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from Erving Goffman's Stigma: "It is a fact that persons who are ready to admit possession of a stigma may nonetheless make a great effort to keep the stigma from looming large.... This process will be referred to as covering."

This idea strikes him as a revelation, and he makes it the third phase of a progression he devises to describe the coming out process: Conversion, Passing, Covering. He then discovers this process literally everywhere. It applies to everything.

In the hands of a more competent theorist, that (possible) insight would lead to a more general theory of identity formation and socialization (tellingly, he tells us nothing of what Goffman did with this idea, or how later sociologists might have followed up on the suggestion). Lacking those skills, Yoshino can only leave his discussion at the superficial level of claiming that we each have a hidden authentic self that must be managed in order to fit into various social roles.

Part III attempts to insert this platitude into civil rights law, leading him to claim that we should favor more accommodation over assimilation. That may sound lovely, but as recent events have shown those most vociferously demanding accommodation are sectarians claiming a right to exercise their discrimination against gays. He would seemingly favor this request as it follows from his prioritizing the protection of general liberties over the more particularized equal protection of minorities. In such a world minorities will always lose their attempts to rectify actual injustices in order to preserve abstract principles. Reasonable people can disagree.

The first two parts are a pleasant read and can be insightful and inspiring in the way that a good novel can be. However, the third bears no stylistic relationship, and is theoretically superficial, and would have benefited from fuller and deeper analysis. The end result is something of a chimera, each part making better sense on its own, but having a jarring impact when forced together.
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LibraryThing member RavenousReaders
In this book Yoshino, a Yale law professor and a gay Asian-American man, explores the phenomenon of “covering,” a term used for coerced hiding of a crucial aspect of oneself. Whether exerted against racial minorities to “act white,” on mothers in the workplace to camouflage the existence of
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their children or against gays who don’t assimilate into straight culture, he describes the failure of civil rights litigation and its failure to protect the socially stigmatized. He concludes that “the courts have too often focused on individuals’ capacity to assimilate, rather than on the legitimacy of the demand that they do so.” As much a memoir as treatise, by turns poetic, poignant, rigorous and scholarly Yoshino makes the law accessible. A very insightful read.

Reviewed by: Bryan S
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LibraryThing member p4style
The story of an Asian from Japan who happens to be gay and an attorney. Well-written, easy ready. Good resources cited.
LibraryThing member schraubd
An important and brilliant piece of scholarship, that has the added perk of being beautifully written. "Covering" is an important concept that helps clarify how people of all background negotiate their identity in the public and private sphere. Yoshino's personal narrative is interwoven with more
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conventional scholarly analysis, and what results is one of the best legal books of the past decade or so. A must read.
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LibraryThing member csoki637
Not terribly sophisticated in its ideas or composition. The main premise of the book—the concept of covering—is important, but the topic could have been addressed in an article or lecture rather than an entire book. I did find some of the examples mentioned interesting, but overall it felt like
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the ideas were stretched out too much to fill the book. The mix of memoir and theory wasn’t very smooth, but I did enjoy hearing about the author’s life, particularly the stories of growing up in and between two cultures, so I’d be interested in reading a full memoir by him.
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LibraryThing member steve02476
Very readable book, part memoir, but mostly discussion of what "covering" is and how the more subtle aspects of discrimination can be dealt with by legal and other action. I like his very underplayed sense of humor.


Publishing Triangle Awards (Finalist — Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction — 2007)
Stonewall Book Award (Honor Book — Non-Fiction — 2007)


Original publication date



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