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Covering by Kenji Yoshino (thoughts)

January 21, 2013

Covering by Kenji Yoshino is a strange yet compelling combination of personal memoir and legal analysis, tied together by beautiful writing and Yoshino’s identity as a gay legal professor. In it, he lays out an argument that majority influence on minorities comes in three progressively subtle expectations: converting (the minority should become the majority, for instance when homosexuality was widely treated as a psychological disorder that could be cured), passing (the minority should pretend it is part of the majority, for instance the recently abolished ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy the US military had towards homosexuality), and covering (the minority is recognised as such but still expected to behave in most ways as the majority does, for instance a man can be gay but should not act like a ‘queen’). I found this theory quite convincing and enjoyed following along as Yoshino develops it in a LGBT context and later applies it to racial and gender expectations. In between, Yoshino interspersed his personal history of both coming to grips with his sexuality (a story he tells with heart wrenching honesty) and his experiences as a Japanese-American who spent childhood summers in Japan. Yoshino’s intelligence and intellectual generosity are always evident, which strengthens his argument.

I wouldn’t say the book is flawless, though. It occasionally stumbles in its discussions of race and gender (despite his good intentions), and I found its final idealistic conclusion that change will come about by conversations between individuals initiated by the minority-member unsatisfying. That being said, Covering was a solid, thought-provoking read that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone interested in LGBT writing, the minority experience or simply the subtleties of contemporary law. And readers who enjoy elegant nonfiction will find this a treat: Yoshino seamlessly weaves together personal, practical, and theoretical discussions, presenting everything in elegant prose. As I’ve already read his other book (A Thousand Times More Fair, which for me was a bit thin if still interesting), I can only hope he has further publishing plans.

Suggested Companion Reads

  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander : another look at how the US legal justice system affects minorities; this is a much stronger indictment against the racism of our prison system.
  • The Supreme Court by Jeffrey Rosen : a light, readable look at important Supreme Court decisions. Much of the civil rights legislation ends up being affected by the Supreme Court, so I think it’d be a nice complement.
  • A Human Being Died That Night by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela : Covering looks at the in-between ground between law and social coercion, the greys of justice. This book does the same thing in the context of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2013 8:34 am

    I swear I will never stop being amazed at the amount of fascinating books you find! This is going straight to the wish list. If it had been written purely as legal analysis, I probably would have been too intimidated to give it a go. But yeah, this sounds so interesting!

  2. January 21, 2013 8:49 am

    I like that theory of the three stages of society’s expectations. I was recently thinking about the fact that I used to frequently see/hear comments along the lines of “I’m fine with homosexuality so long as they don’t rub it in my face.” The concept of the covering stage does a good job of explaining the thinking inherent in that statement. I was pleased to realize that I haven’t heard anyone say that in several years.

  3. January 21, 2013 12:29 pm

    Like Debi, I am always amazed at the amount and variety of books you read. I am adding “Covering” to my TBR list.

  4. January 22, 2013 8:34 pm

    This sounds very interesting! I actually just finished a similar book: What’s Wrong with Homosexuality by John Corvino. He is a philosophy/ethics professor, and he approaches arguments against equal rights using that framework (rather than the legal one it sounds like Yoshino uses). I think these two books would work nicely together, especially since they each have a memoir component as well!

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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