Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights
Lucid, lyrical, and compelling – a wonderful blend of memoir and legal analysis. This is what legal writing should be. A former English scholar, law student, and now professor at Yale, Kenji Yoshino beautifully articulates the unfortunate phenomena of “covering,” a term used to describe an individual’s attempt at minimizing or hiding a fundamental part of one’s self or identity that others may see as inferior.
The law is clear that protecting peoples’ differences based on race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, and (dis)ability, is a fundamental part of our civil liberties. Despite this, however, 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. A case study he examines is about a black women who worked for American Airlines and fired for defiantly wearing cornrows. She sued arguing that wearing cornrows were an intrinsic part of her race/culture but lost. Women are told to “play like men” in white collar workplaces but simultaneously expected to be feminine and dress sexy. We see this often; a double standard and usually a catch-22. Gays are asked not to engage in public displays of same-sex affection. Yoshino recounts a story of a woman who was offered a job at a law firm but immediately had the offer rescinded after being found out that she was lesbian and planning to marry. She sued and lost because courts deemed that the “flaunting” of her sexuality is not legally discriminatory.
It’s a very fine line. It may be illegal to refuse to hire or fire someone for being gay but it is completely legal to regulate and discriminate against certain behavior. Since the courts do not see behavior (a black woman wearing cornrows or a gay man having overtly effeminate mannerisms) as an immutable aspect of ourselves, they are not protected under equal protection laws. We can be gay, but just not act gay. How asinine.
“‘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.” – James Hiller
“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.” – Natasha
“This book should be an absolute must-read book for anyone in the areas of law, ethnic studies, women’s studies, LGBTQ studies, sociology, and human rights. As a minority myself, Yoshino’s articulation of his story resonated greatly with my own life. He is so clear and concise in his description of American laws and recommendations to improve equality for all.” – KP