Bookmarks Issue: 

The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights

A-CoveringWe’ve all done it at some time or another—downplayed a characteristic in order to join, at least for a moment, the mainstream. FDR famously held his cabinet meetings behind a desk to conceal his wheelchair. Women may disguise their femininity in a male-dominated work environment. The phenomenon is called "covering," a term coined in 1963 by sociologist Erving Goffman, and Kenji Yoshino believes that this "dark side of assimilation" is a powerful threat to our civil rights. In Shahar v. Bowers, an attorney was fired, not for being a lesbian but because she had married another woman; in Rogers v. American Airlines, an employee was fired, not for being African American but for her cornrow hairstyle; in Jespersen v. Harrah’s, a bartender was fired, not for being a woman but for refusing to wear makeup. Drawing from his experience as an openly gay legal scholar, Yoshino fleshes out his personal chronicle with discussions of important civil rights decisions, searching to pry open discussion about the next battle of identity politics.
Random House. 304 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0375508201

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"That a law professor’s arguments are sound isn’t a surprise. They make the book valuable. But it is his literary approach that makes it important." Austin Considine

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"It is fitting that the form—Yoshino combines a graceful memoir with a provocative and thoughtful discussion of civil rights law—exemplifies what his book intends to accomplish: the integration of different voices in an effort to rethink the boundaries established by law and society with respect to race, gender, and sexual orientation." Rodger Citron

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Yoshino offers his personal search for authenticity as an encouragement for everyone to think deeply about the ways in which all of us have covered our true selves. And he presents his story and weaves in the legal cases in such an engaging way that we really do feel newly inspired." Ann Althouse

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Yoshino advises us to go beyond emphasizing civil rights to promote more inclusive human rights. … We all feel pressure to cover, he is saying. But because the law is not equipped to handle the subtleties of complex humans, the real work of uncovering falls to society, to individuals." Lise Funderburg

San Diego Union-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Covering is a nuanced polemic that pushes for a new civil rights paradigm that’s both original and inchoate, advocating for social rather than legal solutions without detailing a prescriptive remedy. While this is a book that’s very much immersed in identity … it’s not, according to the author, another cri de coeur for more identity politics." John Dicker

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Yoshino argues convincingly in this book, part luminous, moving memoir, part cogent, level-headed treatise, that covering is going to become more and more a civil rights issue as the nation (and the nation’s courts) struggle with an increasingly multiethnic America." Sandip Roy

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In his many stories and histories, Yoshino ultimately channels Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, who called for a transition from a civil rights paradigm, which polarizes in its inherent focus on specific groups, to a human rights model that champions common humanity." Terry Hong

Critical Summary

Kenji Yoshino, as a professor of law and deputy dean at Yale Law School, fills critics with faith in his scholarship and intellectual rigor. It is his personal story, however, that reaches out from the legal decisions to grab reviewers’ attention and provides the soul of his polemic. Though some critics ponder whether a social solution to such divisive, intricate problems is truly possible, they agree that, in urging society toward the ultimate goal of "human flourishing" (Los Angeles Times), Covering is a watershed book that will be consulted for years to come when discussions of "passing" and identity arise.