‘Born a Crime’ Gives Us a Different POV on Blackness

I first encountered Trevor Noah when I watched his comedy special “African American.”  I thought it was so interesting to hear his point of view on America, especially as a fellow mixed-race black person. This was before he became a contributor on the “The Daily Show.”  As a contributor, Trevor Noah often commented on the craziness of American society. I enjoyed his listening to his views on what was happening in America as a host during the 2016 presidential election.

I noticed when he first became host, he was struggling to figure out how he was going to approach being the host of an iconic and beloved TV show. My government teacher would show us episodes of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show – I was very familiar with the show.

But, Noah found his voice and he has been killing it ever since!  The thing I love about Trevor is how effortlessly he moves from one joke to another. And, similarly to Jon Stewart, he knows when he should take a more serious tone.

Trevor’s memoir, “Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood,” he sets up each chapter in this same way. The moving back and forth between jokes and more intense perceptions; he uses both humorous and serious remarks to get his point across. 

His book gives us a look into the life of a family living in South Africa during the apartheid and how they were able to handle the country’s entrance into the post-apartheid era in the 1990s. Trevor tells us that the mere act of being born was a crime in the eyes of his home country.

He opens his story with a copy of the “Immorality Act, 1927,” which was a law instated in South Africa that read:

“To prohibit illicit carnal intercourse between Europeans and natives and other acts in relation thereto.”

Essentially, white and black people in South Africa could not be in any form of sexual relationship.

Trevor was born to a black Xhosa mother and white Swiss father. This type of relationship was punishable by five years in prison.

giphy shocked

I was surprised but also not surprised when I learned about this. I had heard about the segregation that happened in South Africa. I think what was most surprising to me was learning that this law was still around even when I was born.

Trevor was born in 1981… Interracial marriage in the United States had been fully legal in the U.S. since the 1967 Supreme Court decision declared these laws unconstitutional – not even 20  years before he was born. The institutionalized system of racial segregation in South Africa ended in 1994. I was three years old.

Trevor is living proof of how reckless relationships could be. He spent the majority of his early childhood indoors because his mother and grandmother often took extreme measures to hide him from a government that could have taken him away at any time. I can’t even imagine living this way!

One thing that surprised me about the book was how crazy Trevor was when he was younger. He describes himself as a naughty young boy who grew into this somewhat erratic young man. He was like most of us – struggling to find himself in really a world – though he lived in one where he wasn’t even supposed to exist. I can relate to this on such a personal level.

I was born to a white mom, who lived a very complicated life, and a father who was black, and lived an equally complicated life. So, I am half black, half white and I unfortunately didn’t grow up with my black family.

Growing up, I was always told I was black and I always knew I was black, especially living in an area where there wasn’t a lot of black people to begin with. This made things a bit complicated for me, mainly because of how people treated me. They liked to “other” me and I got a lot of ignorant comments about skin tone and behavior.

I often felt like I had to prove my blackness and the crazy thing was, it wasn’t with other black people. It was with my peers – who were mostly white, Asian, and Mexican. To them, I didn’t act like the black person they saw being portrayed in the media, so I “wasn’t really black.”

But, I am black. I am a black American who happens to be mixed race. I look black, I have thick curly hair, and I have been lucky enough to be able to connect with my black family and they have full accepted me. Black people have always fully accepted me.

Trevor’s life, the stories collected he collected in the book are hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. From eating caterpillars for dinner during hard times, literally being thrown from a moving car when he and his mom were almost abducted, or when he was just trying to survive life in high school, Trevor illustrates his remarkable world with insightful wit and unwavering honesty – something I already knew as I follow his career.

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Courtesy of Trevor’s Twitter

His stories create a stirring and intensely funny picture of a boy trying to survive a damaged world during an incredibly dangerous time. His weapons of choice in a world where he was never supposed to exist: an acute sense of humor and his mother’s unusual, but unmatched love.

Reading this book made me respect Trevor even more. Despite growing up poor, experiencing violence, and surviving abuse and prejudice, Trevor’s mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, never gave up on her beliefs and her goals. His mother is a woman who’s determination ultimately saved her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse – even if it threatened her own life.

I knew Trevor was going to be a good replacement for Jon Stewart. He didn’t necessarily replace him. He took hold of the role and made it his own. After reading his book, I can understand where his passion comes from.

I would recommend this book as a must read for anyone who wants to understand a little bit more about history. ESPECIALLY AMERICANS. Trevor not only talks about himself; he inserts historical facts, usually involving the Apartheid and South Africa.

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