Black Is My Favorite Color by Bernard Malamud

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About the short story

The short story Black is My Favorite Color by Bernard Malamud is about Jewish-Black relationships in America similarly to several of his other novels (such as The Assistant, 1957) and short stories.

Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) was born in Brooklyn as an offspring of Russian Jewish immigrants. Along with Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and Paul Auster, Malamud is one of the most important Jewish-American writers. Black is My Favorite Color deals with prejudice in general and positive prejudice on the part of a liberal humanist in particular, as well as with difficult relationships between people of different ethnic and social origins. It's also about self-image, self-deception and the way people are perceived by others.

The story is told by a middle-aged bachelor who portrays his present situation of failed relationships with black people, which he illustrates by telling a story about past confrontations with a former friend of his, Buster, and a former lover, Ornita. The main character, Nat Lime, tries to make his cleaning woman feel at ease, who, however, turns down his offer to sit at one table with him. This reminds him of past mischief.

Black is My Favorite Color is also a story of changed relationships between African-Americans and Jews in the wake of the events of the 1960's.

Preliminary remarks

Israel Zangwill in his play The Melting Pot (1908) evokes associations of redemption and rebirth into an Edenic age where a new American species is born. This idyllic melting pot concept has been replaced by concepts of multi-ethnicity, hybridity, etc. Ethnic writers assert themselves and have called for rewriting American history and socialisation from non-European, African-American, Native American, Chicano / male and female / perspectives, as challenges to white Anglo-Saxon protestant (WASP) visions. However, utopian views of American life free of the restrictions of history, intolerance, racism, have persisted into optimistic American Dream glorifications rooted in many writings. Malamud's story is written from the perspective of a convinced humanist who believes in the goodness of the human race and an aptness for tolerance and equal opportunity regardless of religion, race, etc., in accordance with what is anchored in the Constitution.

Teaching objectives

to learn about the difficulty people have in becoming aware of their own restrictions and biases; to understand otherness as represented in the dealings /communication with and awareness of characters in the story; to increase empathy towards otherness;

to become aware of links with our own life (for Fremdverstehen, see Bibliography: Nünning); to become aware of and reflect on our own biases with the help of the exercises below. Through Malamud's story readers are to learn skills and competences that enable them to act interculturally by learning to interpret, both others and themselves, by recognizing the hurdles to be overcome, to live up to their own expectations on their way towards humanism and to become humanists themselves (Selbstverstehen).

Black is My Favorite Color provides an insight into various aspects of growing up multi-ethnic in America, in that it

. mirrors diverse aspects of (self-)awareness;
. contains multi-faceted insights into the various identities of a human being;
. illustrates the protagonists' being rooted in traditions, taboos, own personal history and history at large;
. the difficulty of starting new ways of communication between social groups and , as a result, of shaping new starting points for communicating with each other;
. the difficulty of being aware of self-stereotypes, one's own biases and perceptions;
. makes the readers become aware of cultural differences and similarities;
. makes the readers understand the confrontation between
human beings in the short story;
. makes them understand and feel empathy for the characters in fiction;...
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