Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights
- Aull, Felice
- Date of entry: Aug-22-2006
- Last revised: Dec-07-2006
Yoshino has written a book that is both treatise and memoir. Taking his cue from Erving Goffman's introduction of the term "covering" (in Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity), Yoshino writes from his own experience as a young gay Japanese American who is also a lawyer and scholar at Yale University. Covering, Yoshino proposes, is "to tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream" (ix). He identifies three historical and individual stages of dealing with disfavored identity: conversion, in which the individual and/or society try to transform an identity to render it more acceptable (for example, attempts to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals); passing, in which the individual hides the undesirable identity to a greater or lesser extent depending on circumstances; and covering, in which the individual openly acknowledges the undesirable identity but suppresses behavioral aspects of the identity that could draw unwelcome attention (for example, a gay male publicly holding hands with or kissing another gay male).
The author discusses these concepts specifically with relevance to his gay identity in part one of the book, detailing how he went through these three phases himself. Part two elaborates on racial and sex-based covering, and part three discusses Civil Rights and legal issues that surround covering. Yoshino argues that contemporary American society imposes covering on certain groups--gays, blacks, women, disabled people, Jews, Asian Americans--and ultimately in some manner on everyone. The bases for this imposition are pressures to conform and to assimilate. He identifies "covering axes: appearance ( . . . 'I own brown suede bucks'); affiliation ('I listen to National Public Radio . . . '); activism ('I do not mind how white television casts are . . . '); and association (' . . . I married a white woman')" (125).
Beyond that, according to the author, our laws and their interpretation by the Supreme Court "instruct the mainstream to ignore [difference] and the outsider group to mute it" (182). This is an inevitable result of the great pluralism of contemporary society--the courts cannot protect all separate groups that exist.
In the final chapter Yoshino proposes a new paradigm for Civil Rights: universal liberty (rather than equality among groups) based on "our common humanity." This paradigm would allow individuals to live "authentically" and in good psychological health. Yoshino invokes the concept of health proposed by theorist, D. W. Winnicott: living according to one's "True Self" while the "False Self" "is reduced to a 'polite and mannered social attitude,' a tool available to the fully realized True Self" (185).