Identity is a tricky thing for anyone in the formative years of adolescence, a thing made much more complex when you don’t fit the mold of any preexisting social group. For a black American in the 1980s, the formulation of identity was a remarkably unique challenge. The rise of hip hop as a major element of American culture gave a far-reaching voice to the challenges faced many black Americans, but its roots in and content about impoverished, usually violent urban areas offered a decidedly limited and negative view of black Americans. In Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead delves into this complicated identity problem through Benji, a black prep-school New York high school student “catching up on months” of black culture he has missed out on in his upper-middle class world (Whitehead 37). Benji fits the role of the “black geek” during his school year, playing Dungeons & Dragons, obsessing over comic books and Star Wars, yet he is drawn to the cultural world of hip hop in search of a more authentically black experience. Benji is caught in the midst of swirling social identities: too black to fully assimilate into his prep-school world and too white to be part of the hip hop world. Sag Harbor is the place where he tries to negotiate this tension and reinvent himself.
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Hip Hop and the Huxtables: Identity, Hip Hop, and the Cosby Effect in Colson Whitehead's Sag Harbor.
The Graduate Review, 1, 26-33.
Available at: http://vc.bridgew.edu/grad_rev/vol1/iss1/10