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122 C h a p t e r Fou r Dormant Bilingualism in Neoliberal America In his memoir cum scholarly study of civil rights jurisprudence, Covering (2006), Kenji Yoshino includes a brief discussion of the relationship between language and race he intuited when he attended Phillips Exeter Academy: The stereotype that plagued me the most was the portrait of the Asian-American as the perpetual foreigner. I came to hate the question ‘Where are you from, really’ that followed my assertion that I had grown up in Boston. I washed away this tincture of foreignness with language. I wish to be careful here, as my pleasure in language feels largely independent of any other identity. Yet my racial identity did spur my will to command English. I could see my parents struggling with a language in which neither of them would ever swim. And my own failure at Japanese gave me direct experience of illiteracy. I collected English words like amulets. At Exeter, I noticed this mastery whitened me.1 I begin with this lengthy quote because this fleeting moment of Yoshino ’s reflection on how his adolescent self understood the correspondence between mastery of standard English and racial difference underscores the subject I examine in this chapter: the relationship between language and race in the post–civil rights culture and politics of assimilation. Yoshino judiciously suggests that his linguistic and racial identities are not commensurate yet indisputably related. The fact that he is viewed as a foreigner due to his racial difference pushes him to prove his Americanness through English. It would be beside the point to ask to what degree the soft racism he encountered Dormant Bilingualism in Neoliberal America 123 is responsible for his avid cultivation of English. The two metaphors in the above passage of being fluent in English as swimming and English words as amulets bring to mind common expressions in teaching English as a second language: the pedagogy of teaching English through immersion that is referred to as the sink-or-swim method and the idea of English acquisition that assumes language is an object to be acquired. As someone from a language minority household, Yoshino ’s confession of his ardent desire for unaccented English reveals his inadvertent interpellation as a subject by the pedagogy of English as a second language. Ironically, even as he tries to shed the suggestion of foreignness through mastery of English, the very fact of his doing so actually positions him as a foreigner when one considers the ideological operation of English. Looking at it through an Althusserian lens, Yoshino’s exploration of “covering,” the act of veiling from social scrutiny a trait that is socially unaccepted or controversial, can be read as a sustained engagement with the interpellative force of the juridical apparatus to produce subjects that voluntarily play down certain elements of their identity that may make them hypervisible in the public when they perform their social identities.2 As a term that indexes the predicament of post–civil rights jurisprudence for Yoshino, covering hinges on the idea that some identities—such as one’s language of origin or sexual orientation—can be covered whereas some—such as the color of one’s skin—cannot. As a legal scholar Yoshino’s interest lies in how this distinction between identities results in an uneven application of the equal-protection clause in civil rights laws to socially vulnerable groups.3 Compared to other strategies for minority inclusion, such as conversion (which requires the transformation of a core identity) and passing (which requires the hiding of a core identity), covering, Yoshino suggests, is generally viewed as less harmful, if at all, to the minority person since the person who covers is not prohibited from engaging in public activities or from reaping the benefits of such and since it is generally viewed as applied to peripheral elements of a person (or a noncore identity). His primary example for the differential legal demands made on minorities to cover is the widespread belief that one’s sexual orientation can be covered (as opposed to a trait like skin color) and the subsequent lack of legal protection afforded sexual minorities in this context. Language minorities parallel sexual minorities in Yoshino’s work as an employer can ask a bilingual employee to cover her non-English language at work without legal consequences Dormant Bilingualism in Neoliberal America 124 just as an employer can expect a gay employee to refrain from activities or expressions that are...


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