To what extent is Kenji Yoshino a Dream City resident?

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Regardless of a society's plurality, a sense of identity and recognition is just as important as air. At every given time, a culture will exhibit some sense of plurality, multiplicity, and some nature of human differentiation. Around the same time, it is predicted that considering the uniqueness of character and multiculturalism, certain norms would continue to be difficult to stick to in order for individuals to belong to the common society despite their distinct personalities. In his book Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights Kenji Yoshino terms the urge to belong to the mainstream as a necessity to social life with individuals trying to cover their distinct characters, attributes, ethnicity/race, gender and personality among others just to fit to into what is regarded as mainstream. The desire to belong to a common society despite the diversity and complex backgrounds is what Zadie Smith refers to as a ‘Dream City’ in her book Speaking in Tongues. Zadie Smith presents a ‘Dream City’ as a place of many voices where everything exists in multiplicity and ‘various’. At the ‘Dream City,' it can be noted that there is no singular unified self, at least according to Zadie Smith. The present essay assert that Kenji Yoshino is as a resident of Dream City to a great extent drawing from his reflections from his literary piece Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights and on the fact that he is a gay Japanese American

To understand the extent to which an individual may belong to the Dream City it is important to comprehend the characteristics of the residents belonging to the city. According to Smith, a Dream City can be seen as a place where individuals who originally came from diverse backgrounds and possessing multiple identities that she demonstrates by using Barack Obama. Obama born of a black father and a white mother is presented as a Dream City resident. Due to his biracial backgrounds, Obama can easily relate with the black or white despite the possibility of being labeled as a traitor by the black or a fraud by the white. The citizens of the Dream City can be noted to be under constant pressure to conform to some identity. From Smith's personal experience, it can be seen that having moved from Cambridge to a part of London she is forced to adopt the accent of the city into which she has moved. Despite the diversity, the citizens of the Dream City coexist and prefer to use the pronoun ‘we'. However, the term is unstable as ‘we’ is a utopian term that can easily turn to ‘I' due to the existence of class, identity, race and ethnicity that make individuals to be distinct from other people. The residents of Dream City can thus be seen to practice the act of embracing who they are as well as acknowledging and appreciating what they can become (Smith 3). The residents believe in multiplicity even if they encounter stereotypes that push them into choosing only one identity. Biracial individuals trying to belong to some class are always confronted with such facts. Choosing one identity over the other is always a difficult task especially with all the societal stereotypes. However, it can be noted that the residents of the Dream City present a flexibility of character and voice that enables them to the manifest flexibility of everything as in most cases people have multiple narratives and to what Smith refers to as complicated and messy history. The Dream City can further be seen to comprise of most of the contemporary society. In any given country it is expected that there is a class of immigrants trying to fit into the culture of their host country (Smith 2). Globalization and other socio-economic factors are largely attributed to the multiplicity and pluralism that characterize most societies today. It is therefore expected to find African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Mexican-America among others living in the US as an example.

In the book Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights, Kenji Yoshino presents a poetic memoir on the struggles undergo to conceal their identities so as to fit into what he refers to as mainstream. The author can also be seen as polemic as he is seen to be attacking the civil and societal discrimination, especially of the gay individuals. The author can thus be seen to use the gay-rights movement as a stage to pass across his main message that everybody masks their identities so as to fit into what is regarded as socially correct. The author argues that the demand for cover can lead to a serious and hidden threat to individuals' civil rights in their existence in any community. The book points out that even though it can be noted the society has gradually stopped penalizing individuals based on their religion, sexual orientation, race, gender and others, it can still be seen that the society has routinely chosen to impart unequal treatment to individuals who fails to conform to the ‘accepted' social standards. The unfair treatment is noted in forcing the racial minorities to act like white people by changing their names, languages and abandoning their cultural practices. In workplaces, it is still common to find women being told to act or think like a man. The devout people may be compelled to minimize their expression of faith while individuals with disabilities are forced to hide the paraphernalia that is designed to enable to function normally. Yoshino gives examples of individuals who have changed their societal, cultural, gender and physical status in a bid to hide their real status from the public eye. Such examples include Margaret Thatcher who sought to train her voice so as to have a lower voice timber while Krishna Bhanji hid his ethnicity by changing his name to Ben Kingsley (Yoshino 294). The author further gives examples of individuals trying to mask their religious identity among others. In the efforts of the, all the changes aimed at covering it Yoshino argues that the individuals did not cover willingly but given in to the pressure from the society. He writes, "I doubt any of these people covered willingly. I suspect they were all bowing to an unjust reality that required them to tone down their stigmatized identities to get along in life" (294). The author notes that the American society and civil laws have failed to address the harms posed by the threats of covering and that the works of civil rights will only be complete when the laws have learned to completely address the threat of coerced conformity.

Just like in the Smith’s Dream City in which conformity is the basis on which individuals struggle to exist, Yoshino’s Covering paints a picture of identity struggles in the wake of multiculturalism and diversity in the society. The individuals who are presented by Yoshino have having changed their name and status so as to conform to the mainstream may be seen to be residents of the Dream City as they struggle to belong to the collective society. Just like in the Dream City where individuals struggle to adopt a certain language or accent it Covering describes the plight of gay people who faces stereotypical prejudice, discrimination, and unfair treatment. Gay people struggle to fit into the society and therefore as citizens of Dream City try to embrace both the lives of straight people while trying to maintain their true and inborn identity. Even though the Dream City residents seek to achieve the ‘we' status, it is still clear that there exists instability in such references due to the existence of class and identity in various societies. The arguments by Yoshino can be seen to draw deeply from his personal background. Yoshino is gay and American with Asian origin. He represents a typical citizen of the Dream City because the work in Covering represents his memoir and a landmark fight against injustices due to coerced conformity to various societal expectations. Yoshino is a citizen of Dream City as he regards the fight against assimilation as a battle that he faces as a minority. The ‘normal’ sexuality is a representation of the urge to conform to the societal expectation in the backdrop of ensuing conflicts that individuals face in living their daily. As an adolescent, he is a Dream City's resident due to the conflicts that emerge due to his sexual orientation. The beginning of covering can be seen in the sense that he demonstrate internal struggle to accept and embrace his identity. Identity struggles and eventually the urge to fit into the mainstream Yoshino writes, “neither Japanese nor American, neither poet nor pragmatist, neither straight nor gay” (305). Such struggles or assertions are common with the residents of Dream City who may prefer to avoid identifying with any particular identity but attempt to embrace flexibility that comes with diversity.

Kenji Yoshino can be seen to be a citizen of Dream City especially during the times in his life when he had to cover his sexuality. One major characteristic of the Dream City citizens in the fact that they are always under constant pressure to conform to some identity despite their contrary distinctiveness as compared to the societal expectations. Even though the residents of Dream City would like to refer to themselves as ‘we’ it can be noted that the pronoun is unstable due to the unique identities of the members as well social classes among other factors. As a resident of Dream City, Yoshino writes about his perspectives on racial covering and especially regarding how he has to conform to the American way of life despite the fact that he has a Japanese origin. The pressure to conform to the various standards and identities can be seen to pose a serious threat to individualism societies should, therefore, learn to accept every member without having to conform to some standards.

Works Cited

Smith, Zadie. "Speaking in Tongues." The New York review of books 26 (2009): 1-16.

Yoshino, Kenji. Covering: The Hidden Assault on our Civil Rights. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2007.

January 25, 2023

Sociology Literature


Race and Ethnicity

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Diversity Society Character

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