Great Reads: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah


As a semi-consistent watcher of The Daily Show, I grew accustomed to seeing John Stewart behind the desk giving audiences the news, mixed in with his famous political satire. I like to keep up with what’s happening, and I love to laugh, The Daily Show offers both. That's why when Stewart announced in 2015 that he would be leaving the show I was taken by surprise. Not only because was he leaving, but a Black man would be his replacement.

This was big.

I was somewhat familiar with his replacement, Trevor Noah because he became a reoccurring contributor to the show in late 2014. My mind wasn't yet made up on how I how felt about him. I thought, "He's not even American, how could he understand all the nuances that go into our politics.” Plus, I'm not a big fan of change when it comes to some of my favorite shows, but I had no choice but to sit back and see what kind of energy he would bring. 

For a while, I wasn’t able to get jiggy with the new show. Yes Trevor was funny, and the jokes hit, but it still felt as if he was just holding John Stewart’s place until he came back from an extended vacation. I don’t feel he initially made the show his own until he made the controversial decision to bring Tomi Lahren on for a discussion. Their debate went viral and it caused me to pay more attention to Noah as a result. I began to watch his stand-up specials and quickly became a fan. Many of his bits consisted of him talking about his childhood growing up in apartheid South Africa as a mixed child. Born to a Black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father, Trevor was illegal, literally Born a Crime.

His book starts off by describing the exact law his parents broke by conceiving him, the Immorality Act of 1927, which basically prohibits illicit carnal intercourse between Europeans and natives. Having lived it, Trevor Noah often describes apartheid as a perfect form of racism. South African officials traveled the world and observed each country’s “best” practices for systemic racism and combined them to what was known as apartheid.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, is a collection of scattered childhood memories that described his early years and the challenges he faced in his environment. This book wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as he thinks back to specific events that may have been tough, he made sure to add comedy. This book was funny as hell. I never once felt like he was trying to garner sympathy, but that he just wanted to tell his story.     

The interesting point I took from his book was the fact that he did not realize he was going through a real hardship at the time because it was all he knew; it was his reality. He gives an example of when he went to the park with his parents as a young child. His mother would have to dress up as a maid because she would’ve raised too much suspicion by walking with a mixed child. His father, a white man, had to walk across the street as if he didn’t know them. One time Trevor ran up to his father and screamed, “daddy!” and his father was forced to run away from him. Young Trevor thinking it was a game ran after his father still screaming for his attention.

Older and wiser, Noah is able to look back on his childhood and provide much more context than he could have as a child, or even as a teen. In his chapter, “Go Hitler!” he recalls a time in his life where he was a DJ and one of his crewmember’s names was Hitler. His real birth name was actually Hitler. As Americans, we understand the historical context behind that name, but Noah explains the fact that the name Hitler doesn’t mean the same to South Africans, as a result, the name wasn’t unusual. Many South African parents would pick English or European names for their children so they could be easier to pronounce by white people. Children were given an English name, a traditional South African name, and the family last name. The English names were picked by how popular the name was in the bible, the media (Hollywood celebrity), or politics, Hence the name Hitler.

Hitler was the best dancer in his neighborhood and his secret weapon when it came to getting his audience fully involved in the party. This one time they had a gig at a Jewish school and as usual, Hitler came out to perform. Without realizing the significance of what was happening, Trevor and his whole crew screamed “Go Hitler! Go Hitler!” while they bounced their arms up and down. In the moment he clearly didn’t understand the harsh reaction he received. Us as readers can see both sides, understand where his ignorance stemmed from, and still laugh at it.

This book was remarkable in drawing readers in with funny anecdotes, all the while providing thought provoking ideas on racism and how it constructs our society. Born a Crime perfectly demonstrates where Noah’s comedic inspiration comes from and allows readers into his world. Great Read.