Perhaps all of us have some quality, some trait that we would prefer not to have, or at least prefer not be known. It could be our economic background, or perhaps something about our parents. Whatever the quality is, it is usually something that shapes, in some way, how (and who) we became who we are. At the same time, the quality has some social weight or stigma attached to the term to describe the general (but not necessarily our own) experience. So in some situations, we hide our less-appreciated qualities; we eschew terms to describe them (and us); we deny, at least in some public situations, our identity.
The student affairs profession was one of the first to realize the competing complexities of identity. Despite recent research (Abes, Jones, & McEwen, 2007; Renn, 2004) into the multiplicity of student identities, however, we have few sustained investigations of how such juxtaposition of socially-competing identity plays out in individual students' lives over their collegiate lifetimes. Kenji Yoshino's Covering is such a work, and more. Yoshino, deputy dean for intellectual life and professor at Yale Law School, provides a vivid and compelling depiction of living such a life of covering, extrapolating from a personal analysis of the effects of such acts of personal denial to public life and political standing.
Yoshino's Japanese parents immigrated to the United States before he was born. He relates his difficulty managing two cultural identities while growing up: the Japanese of his parents and grandparents with whom he lived, and the American culture of his elementary and junior high schools. Summers of his youth spent in Japan with other Japanese-American students made shifting cultures part of Yoshino's identity: "By virtue of my two native parents, I had a chance to assimilate no American of non-Japanese descent possessed" (p. 117). Yoshino lived "a mantra in [his parents'] home: 'Be one hundred percent American in America, and one hundred percent Japanese in Japan'" (p. 118). This made the summers an even starker contrast to the rest of his Americanized year:
[I]t seems more likely I do not code as Japanese because of a set of behaviors—how I hold my body, how I move through space, how I speak. Japanese who interact with me are assaulted by my difference from them. They make sense of that difference by implanting it in my body.
In other words, being different from the norm is viewed as something within the individual that does not allow him to fit within a culture or society.
In addition to trying to decipher where he, as an individual, fit within the American-Nipponese divide, Yoshino grappled with sexuality. His personal reflections and legal analyses provide a very accessible basis for readers just beginning their study of identity and "otherness," which is often easy to theorize yet difficult to convey viscerally. Indeed, Yoshino's reflexively analyzes his sexuality in both Japanese and American cultures, allowing the reader to feel the scars that cannot be obliterated simply by concealing the stigma of not fitting into a culture.
Yoshino utilizes that concept of covering, barrowed from sociologist Erving Goffman's Stigma (1963), to allow the reader this emotional insight. He then expands his thinking into how the practices of covering undermine civil rights. His central thesis is by covering, individuals undergo normative assimilation, rather than be punished by dominant cultures in society. Yoshino provides a model for the processes of covering, consisting of four axes: appearance (how one physically embodies one's identity); affiliation (one's self-concept of one's cultural identification); activism (the politicization of identity); and association (public allegiance and membership). When one covers, one actively conceals any indication within the four axes that might place one outside the norm of the group one is in at the time (whether that be ethnic, national, sexual, or any other).
Covering, as a concept, works on the predication of "don't ask, don't tell:" the majority group or society will accept differences in identity only to the extent that society and its norms are not confronted with nonconformist behavior. Challenging the premises of covering, though, often puts one...