Essays and legal writing of Heron Greenesmith

Friday, March 8, 2013

covering: the hidden assault on our civil rights, by kenji yoshino

2:04 PM Posted by Heron Greenesmith , , , 2 comments
Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil RightsCovering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Covering is an argument for a new direction of civil rights advocacy: protecting individuals’ ability to live their full selves in our society. Yoshino argues that as much as we should protect minority populations from facing discrimination because of the color of their skin or who they love, we should not require individuals to “cover” the characteristics that align them with their minority population: traditional African-American hairdos, for example, or lack of makeup for a less stereotypically feminine woman. Yoshino weaves his argument with threads from his own lived experience as a gay man and an Asian-American man. He describes his own journey from conversion (hoping and pretending to be straight), through passing (recognizing his own identity, but never sharing), to covering (being out, but acting as “straight” as he feels society requires him to act).

As a bisexual, less stereotypically feminine woman, I can identity all three phases in the journeys of many of my myriad identifies. But what I will take away from this book and treasure in my heart is Yoshino’s unapologetic demand for justice. He quotes Justice Brennan’s dissent to the Supreme Court in a death penalty case: when the majority spurned the use of studies showing racial bias in criminal sentencing for fear that it would lead to challenges to al dimensions of criminal sentencing, Brennan offered that this argument seemed “to suggest a fear of too much justice.” Yoshino analogizes to civil rights, proposing that the same could be said about too much protection against discrimination.

Judicial efficacy and administration burdens aside, YES! We allow ourselves, as lawyers, to see the law as the blueprint, the walls of the house that we are allowed to decorate. Instead, we should see the law as the shelter we have built to protect ourselves, a shelter we can add to as our family grows larger. There is no restriction on the number of rooms. There is no such thing as "too much justice." Yoshino asked a mentor for advice as he stepped into the life of law professor. “He told me his only advice for the coming years was that I should be more myself, that instead of reasoning within the law as it existed, I should speak my truth and make the law shape itself around me.”

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