Kenji Yoshino, author of the bestseller Covering, spoke at an all-school lecture September 28, providing a stark look at how societal expectations keep people from achieving success and force just about everyone to hide parts of themselves—to “cover.”
Yoshino, a professor at New York University Law School, defined covering as “a strategy through which an individual downplays a known stigmatized identity to blend into the mainstream.”
He explained that covering is all around and gave examples including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who receiving training to reduce the shrillness of her voice; CBS’ Julie Chen, who had eyelid surgery to reduce her Asian appearance; and even Groton alumnus Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who as president frequently hid his disability. Yoshino distinguished between passing and covering: President Roosevelt was not passing for non-handicapped because his disability was known; FDR was covering because he felt the need to put it out of view.
The speaker noted one politician who refused to cover: Barack Obama, who years ago ignored advisors who urged him to use Barry instead of Barack or otherwise change his name. Yoshino himself told of an employer who accepted his sexual orientation yet advised him not to write about gay rights issues. He was not passing, but he was being told to cover.