This week, we deviate from the mental health theme to look at Born A Crime, a memoir by Trevor Noah.
I’ve been a fan of Trevor Noah for a while now. I regularly watch his late night show, The Daily Show, and I like his comedy specials on Netflix. Race and cultural differences often come up in his comedy, and social justice often makes its way into The Daily Show. I like that his points of view on difficult issues are nuanced and well thought out; he’s someone who responds rather than simply reacting.
The tone of this book will sound very familiar if you know his other work, and I found that while reading, I could imagine the flow of it if he was telling the story doing standup or a monologue.
The title Born A Crime comes from Noah being born in South Africa during Apartheid to a black mother and white father, which was considered a crime. Because he was mixed race, he was considered coloured within the apartheid system. In Soweto, the black township where he lived for much of his childhood, he was seen as white. He writes that his grandmother wouldn’t beat him to discipline him because she considered him to be white (it sounds like physical discipline was culturally very common, at least at that time).
He explained that language was a way to change how people viewed him. By responding to people in their own language with their accent, “I became a chameleon. My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color.” It offers an interesting look at the differences and similarities that people tend to select as being relevant.
Noah’s mom is a key figure in the book; she’s a strong Xhosa woman who chose to find a white man to have a baby because she’s the kind of lady who does things on her terms. I found it quite interesting that he admitted to victim-blaming in relation to her staying with her abusive husband at the time.
Unsurprisingly, given that it’s written by a comedian, the book is funny, but it’s also thought-provoking. The author is very insightful when it comes to seeing through the things that divide us in society. While the stories represent his own experiences, they also give the reader an inside look at the strange world that was created by apartheid. I felt less like I was getting a look inside his head and more like I was getting a look out at the world through his worldview, and I think the worldview shaped by his particular circumstances makes the book interesting even if you don’t know or perhaps even aren’t particularly interested in who he is as a person. I thought it was an excellent read.
Born a Crime is available on Amazon.