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The Hidden Assault On Our Civil Rights

Against that 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. The devout are instructed to minimize expressions of faith, and individuals with disabilities are urged to conceal the paraphernalia that permit them to function. 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.

At the same time, Yoshino is responsive to the American exasperation with identity politics, which often seems like an endless parade of groups asking for state and social solicitude. He observes that the ubiquity of the covering demand provides an opportunity to lift civil rights into a higher, more universal register. Since we all experience the covering demand, we can all make common cause around a new civil rights paradigm based on our desire for authenticity — a desire that brings us together rather than driving us apart.

Yoshino’s argument draws deeply on his personal experiences as a gay Asian American. He follows the Romantics in his belief that if a human life is described with enough particularity, the universal will speak through it. The result is a work that combines one of the most moving memoirs written in years with a landmark manifesto on the civil rights of the future.

Winner of the 2007 Randy Shilts Award for Gay Non-Fiction

Seldom has a work of such careful intellectual rigor and fairness been so deeply touching. Yoshino… masterfully melds autobiography and legal scholarship, marking a move from more traditional pleas for civil equality to a case for individual autonomy in identity politics… As healing as it is polemical, this book has tremendous potential as a touchstone in the struggle for universal human dignity.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

January 2006
Published by Random House
Hardcover / 304 pages
ISBN 0375508201

Advance Praise for Covering

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.
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This brilliantly argued and engaging book does two things at once, and it does them both astonishingly well. First, it’s a finely grained memoir of young man’s struggles to come to terms with his sexuality, and second, it’s a powerful argument for a whole new way of thinking about civil rights and how our society deals with difference. This book challenges us all to confront our own unacknowledged biases, and it demands that we take seriously the idea that there are many different ways to be human. Kenji Yoshino is the face and the voice of the new civil rights.”
–Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

“Kenji Yoshino has not only given us an important, compelling new way to understand civil rights law, a major accomplishment in itself, but with great bravery and honesty, he has forged his argument from the cauldron of his own experience. In clear, lyrical prose, Covering quite literally brings the law to life. The result is a book about our
public and private selves as convincing to the spirit as it is to the mind.”
–Adam Haslett, author of You Are Not A Stranger Here

“Kenji Yoshino’s work is often moving and always clarifying. Covering elaborates an original, arresting account of identity and authenticity in American culture.”
–Anthony Appiah, author of The Ethics of Identity and Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor Of Philosophy at Princeton University

“This stunning book introduces three faces of the remarkable Kenji Yoshino: a writer of poetic beauty; a soul of rare reflectivity and decency; and a brilliant lawyer and scholar, passionately committed to uncovering human rights. Like W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, this book fearlessly blends gripping narrative with insightful analysis to further the cause of human emancipation. And like those classics, it should explode into America’s consciousness.”
–Harold Hongju Koh Dean, Yale Law School and former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights

“Covering is a magnificent work — so eloquently and powerfully written I literally could not put it down. Sweeping in breadth, brilliantly argued, and filled with insight, humor, and erudition, it offers a fundamentally new perspective on civil rights and discrimination law. This extraordinary book is many things at once: an intensely moving personal memoir; a breathtaking historical and cultural synthesis of assimilation and American equality law; an explosive new paradigm for transcending the morass of identity politics; and in parts, pure poetry. No one interested in civil rights, sexuality, discrimination — or simply human flourishing — can afford to miss it.”
–Amy Chua, author of World on Fire

“In this stunning, original book, Kenji Yoshino demonstrates that the struggle for gay rights is not only a struggle to liberate gays — it is a struggle to free all of us, straight and gay, male and female, white and black, from the pressures and temptations to cover vital aspects of ourselves and deprive ourselves and others of our full humanity. Yoshino is both poet and lawyer, and by joining an exquisitely observed personal memoir with a historical analysis of civil rights, he shows why gay rights is so controversial at present, why “covering” is the issue of contention, and why the “covering demand,” universal in application, is the civil rights issue of our time. This is a beautifully written, brilliant and hopeful book, offering a new understanding of what is at stake in our fight for
human rights.”
–Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice

“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.”
–The New York Times Sunday Book Review

“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.”
–San Francisco Chronicle

“The personal and political collide head-on in Covering, Yale law professor Kenji Yoshino’s remarkable debut . . . . [Yoshino’s] sense of justice is pragmatic and infectious.”
–Time Out New York

“[Covering] is, at heart, a memoir, written by a legal scholar who might have missed his calling as a poet. In some of its most powerful sections, Yoshino [struggles] with what it means to be a gay man. . . . This probably says less about the writer’s personal courage — he’s got that in spades, as one discovers throughout the book — than about the pervasiveness and strength of the societal pressures he so eloquently describes.”
–The Village Voice

“Who’d expect a book on civil rights and the law to be warmly personal, elegantly written, and threaded with memorable images? [T]he beauty of Yoshino’s book lies in the poetry he brings to telling his own story.”
–O Magazine

“A lush, frequently elegant account . . . . Yoshino is a skillful narrative guide with a gift for describing the small dramas of still situations.”
–Legal Affairs

“Yoshino introduces a new term into the American social lexicon: ‘covering’ is the new ‘passing,’ the new ‘closet.’ Provocative and affecting, Covering challenges us to be as open with one another as Yoshino is willing to be with us.”
–Boston Globe

“With a leavening humor that ripples throughout the book . . . Yoshino mixes scholarship and memoir. The poignancy of his personal victory is as compelling as any other piece of his treatise.”
–Los Angeles Times

“[A] sober, rigorous and touching treatise on behalf of the disenfranchised that comes not a moment too soon . . . In times to come, this book could be viewed as a seminal work.”
–Chicago Sun-Times

“Yoshino, a law professor at Yale University, eloquently weaves memoir and legal text in this lovely, moving, and persuasive book. He tells his story in such real, raw, and beautiful terms that is literally gripping; despite its ostensibly academic subject matter, I could not put this book down.”
–Edge Providence

“A tenured professor and deputy dean for intellectual life, [Yoshino] is the model of a rising legal star. But his ground-breaking studies in civil rights are the product of embracing rather than hiding his identity as a gay Asian American. Part legal theory, part memoir, [Covering] is a unique achievement for the charismatic young prof.”
–American Lawyer

“Yale Law professor Kenji Yoshino has come up with a valuable examination of an unexplored aspect of thwarted civil and social rights . . . . Among other virtues, the book reveals a sharp legal mind and a genuine literary talent.”
–Frontiers Magazine

“In our post 9/11 society of diminishing civil rights, Yoshino’s debut is well timed: ‘Covering’ is already being touted on ‘must-read’ and ‘editor’s choice’ lists.”
–Washington Post

“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.”
–The New Yorker

“[Tolerance] demands . . . an effort of culture: works of art, high art and popular art, that touch the public imagination and inspire it to feel empathy with relationships that are now viewed with loathing. To that humane public poetry, Yoshino’s lyrical and thought-provoking book makes a significant contribution.”
–The New Republic

“[A] brilliant work of art . . . Yoshino skillfully incorporates storytelling into a sharp critique of the failure of anti-discrimination law to perceive “covering” ‘the downplaying of one’s nonmainstream identities as a threat’ . . . Yoshino’s writing and analysis are first-rate . . . A truly superb piece of work.”
–Legal Times