Bijou recommends Sag Harbor

December 26, 2008

Read an excerpt from Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead in the New Yorker.  Set in 1985, it is the story of a group of young black teenage boys who spend each summer together at the beach in the tony village of Sag Harbor, NY in the Hamptons .  They play, they fight and challenge each other as they try to figure out where they fit in a world where private schools filled with white kids, a Harvard MBA and summer houses at the shore are what they’ve been raised to inherit.  In the background Run-D.M.C and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”  rap for their attention as they struggle to figure out where “Black boys with beach houses” really belong.

The Deeply and Talented Colson Whitehead

The Deeply and Talented Colson Whitehead

Whitehead probably knows of what he writes given his bio – from Harvard undergrad to a writer for the Village Voice to acclaimed author and short story contributor to The New Yorker – and is gorgeous to boot.  Beautiful man, beautiful stories.

Favorite excerpts:

 “First, you had to settle the question of out.  When did you get out?  Asking this was like showing off, even though anyone you could ask had already received the same gift: the same sun wrapped in shiny paper, the same soft benevolent sky, the same gravel road that sooner or later would skin you, pure joy in the town of Sag Harbor.  Still, it was hard not to believe that it all belonged to you more than to anyone else, that it had been made for you, had been waiting for years for you to come along.” 

[I love the way he sets you up to think we are talking about prison because of course, as a white lady reading the story, I’m going to assume – which I did – that these kids were doing time.  As the story continues Whitehead drops hints of a future where one boy dies and another ends up in a wheelchair, victims of their blackness and their blood.]

“My mother said, “We’re making good time.”  The L.I.E. had stopped slicing towns in half and now cut through untamed Nassau County greenery, always a good sign.  I tried to claw my way back into sleep until we’d ditched Route 27 and cruise control and weaved down Scuttlehole Road, zipping past the white fencing and rusting wire that held back the bulging acres at the side of the road.  I smelled the sweetly muddy fumes of the potato fields and pictured the cornstalks in their long regiments.  My mother said, “That sweet Long Island corn,” as she always did.  She’d been coming out since she was a kid, her father part of the first wave of black folks from the city to start spending summers in Sag Harbor.”

And finally. . .

“It was only a matter of time before we started posing for album covers.  Not one from innocent ’85, but one from a few years later, after the music had changed from this:

Rhymes so def/Rhymes rhymes galore/Rhymes that you’ve never even heard before/ Now if you say you heard my rhyme/We gonna have to fight/’Cause I just made the motherfuckers up last night

to this:

“Hey yo, Cube, there go that mother-fucker right there.”/”No shit.  Watch this. . .Hey, what’s up, man?”/Not too much.”/”You know you won, G.”/Won what?”/”The wet T-shirt contest, motherfucker!”

Lyrics from the aforementioned “Here We Go” and “Now I Gotta Wet ‘Cha,” copyright 1992, by Ice Cube, born the same year as me, who grew up on Run-D.M.C. just like we all did.  “Wet ‘cha,” as in “wet your shirt with blood.”  Something happened in those nine years.  Something happened that changed the terms, and we went from fighting (I’ll knock that grin off your face) to annihilation (I will wipe you from this earth).  How we got from here to there is a key passage in the history of young black men that no on cares to write.”

[And there he leaves us!  Aching for more dialogue, waiting and hoping to find out the truth from a man who is black who has lived his blackness who may finally break the silence and explain for us white folks in the world, “why do you keep killing each other?”  “Why do you hate each other so?”  “Is it our fault?”  The ultimate fear of white people everywhere.  “Is it because we segregated you to a corner of our cities and named your ‘hood a “ghetto” like the ghettos where they kept the Jews who were waiting for trains to prison camps and death by gas or gun?”  “Have we treated you the same way and when will it come back to get us?”  “Why do you shoot at each other instead of us?”  I wait for Colson to finally throw me the answer, a lifeline to years of embarrasment and denial, but the paragraph ends.  He gives me nothing, which my white guilt says is exactly what I deserve. ] 

Bijou signing off.  Bises!

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