The Graduate Review


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.

Note on the Author

Jonathan Naumowicz is currently pursuing his MA in English under the mentorship of Dr. Kim Davis. This seminar paper was completed in the spring of 2014 for Dr. Davis. He plans on using his BSU degree to further his career in education.

Rights Statement

Articles published in The Graduate Review are the property of the individual contributors and may not be reprinted, reformatted, repurposed or duplicated, without the contributor's consent.