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In this article, Professor Frank Cooper explores self-actualization, the process whereby people create their own identity by means of experimenting with different behaviors, in the context of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the FBI surveillance he was subjected to in the time leading up to his death. He argues that it is possible for people to live in an environment that is more or less alienating to the way in which they perform their identities. Performativity scholars such as Devon Carbado and Mitu Gulati say that people can have an internal sense of self that is distinct from the identity that others attribute to them. Kenji Yoshino emphasizes that individuals may self-actualize but only when they are generally free to perform their external identity in ways that are consistent with their internal senses of self without fear of repercussions. Professor Cooper argues that while the internal sense of self is not more real than the performance of the self, allowing people to make their internal and performed selves consistent will make people feel more self-actualized. Our government is at its best when it maximizes the ability of individuals to self-actualize through identity performance.

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32 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 517 (2008).