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Kenji Yoshino: We're All A Bit Different, Why Cover That Up? [VIDEO]
Diversity | November 27, 2012

Kenji Yoshino: We're All A Bit Different, Why Cover That Up? [VIDEO]

As human rights speaker Kenji Yoshino argues in a moving keynote, minority groups living in the United States are being forced to "cover" a specific part of their personality in order to fit in and get ahead. This idea of "covering", which Yoshino explains in detail in his book, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights, refers to the toning down of a specific—and often stigmatized—element of one's personality or heritage in order to be more successful. This practice is especially troublesome because we live in a society that claims to accept racial, gender, and physical differences, and which is becoming increasingly multicultural and diverse in its population. "Let's face it," he says, "in the United States it's not normal to be completely normal along all axis [and] all of us are outside of a mainstream in some way." However, despite the fact that society is becoming less homogeneous than ever before, there are still institutional and societal norms and unstated rules that put pressure on people to hide certain aspects of who they are.

"When I think about racial covering, I think about individuals who are asked to act "white" if they want to get ahead in the workplace," Yoshino says. He cites examples where it was suggested that black individuals forgo Afro hairstyles, or where workers were advised to not speak in their native tongue when working in "English-only" workplaces as evidence that this practice is still taking place. Further, he notes that many hate crimes are ignited because the victim was perceived as being "too open" about who they are without even attempting to "cover it up." As a dedicated advocate for the civil rights movement, Yoshino presents a new way of thinking about identity. Drawing on his own experiences growing up as a gay Asian-American, Yoshino explains the dangers that exist within a society that claims to support differences between its citizens—but denies equal treatment to those who refuse to downplay their differences. With an extensive background in law, Yohino not only assesses impediments to global equality, but also proposes ways to enact positive changes and provide justice and fairness for everyone.
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