covering by Kenji Yoshino, is a book on civil rights. This book examines “covering” that is the practice of hiding our “True Self” with a “False Self”, a front or theatrical mask used for social or job related acceptance. I have now finished skimming through the book, and my comments and somewhat extemporaneous remarks might be found behind the
mask, err, fold.Mr Yoshino does a fine, if uneven (on that see below), job of describing what covering entails and how it is be a hardship when it is, or is perceived, as a thing forced upon a person. If “covering” is a description of this effect, a similar narrative and book might be written about “badging”. This activity or tendency is not covered in the book. It is these two tendencies after all that need to be reconciled. So before returning to Mr Yoshino’s book, I will describe what I mean by badging.
Genesis is a good place in which to begin, for it is a book of beginnings (Chapter 17):
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Men join. Men take on clothing, habits, and customs of the group to which they join. Following the example of Mr Yoshino, I’ll cite a personal example as well as the one above. Cyclists, racers, shave their legs. Why is this done. The professional peleton shaves its legs because they get a massage for recovery and muscle work every evening. Shaving aids the masseuse in rubbing and the application of lotion. How about rest of the the larger non-European professional pack of racing cyclists. Why do they shave? Primarily it’s a sign. Not of covenant, but of belonging to the group of cyclists. An unshaven cyclist in the amateur pack is a sign that one isn’t necessarily a member, that one doesn’t align with the conventions and praxis of those who do belong, e.g., does he corner well?
And that’s the point, by badging, by taking on outward signs of belonging to a group, one is signalling assention and belonging to that groups conventions, customs, and internal shared beliefs and customs.
In essence, Mr Yoshino is complaining of “covering”, or in essence of a person being required to adopt signs of badging to join which are in conflict with other aspects of self. He points out that legal protections have been given where the adoption of the badge is something which is impossible or unreasonable for some others to done, e.g., race or religion. On the other side of the coin is the point that badging is universal. Men by nature are joiners. When one wishes to join, but not adopt a badge there are three alternatives:
- Persuade the group that the badge in your case is not required,
- form an alternative group in which alternate badging is used,
- find an alternative group or pursuit in which the badges is acceptable to ones “self”.
The first choice above, is that which is essentially what occurs when the law forces a decision down, it is also taken when individuals by virtue of charisma or circumstance get granted membership sans badge. The second choice is when enough of those unable or unwilling to badge choose their own new badging criteria and force by numbers, talent, and force themselves within their new group onto the stage. The final alternative is that choices in life and pursuits and those groups we might align are rarely, if ever singular.
Badging is not necessarily a bad thing. It serves a necessary purpose. It is a great timesaver, a shortcut method to cut through some of “Other” by outward signs one might be able find that our assumptions of outward appearance are in synch with our appearance. This shortcut is so part and parcel of you community,that this is why there is a community “penalty” for those who break this agreement. “Covering” asks that badging be ignored. This is unlikely. However, if more awareness of both the necessity of badging (the missing book) as well as the cost (for some) of covering that it might be easier to admit more diversity of different badge-groups within a given calling to lessen the costs of the difficulty of donning different badges.
An example of what I mean by a discrepancy, Mr Yoshino points (approvingly it seemed) to covering by Morman polygamists to fit in and pass undetected. At the same time he also remarks that “certain reasons are illegitimate — like … patriarchy … “. Patriarchal living arrangements and patriarchy is part and parcel with most polygamy. So on the one hand a thing is ok, because it’s part of the covering paradigm which is being assaulted, but on the other it is one of a group of illegitimate reasons that are well discarded.