Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Having come to enjoy Trevor Noah and his commentary on The Daily Show, thanks to Born a Crime I now have a much greater appreciation for his opinions and viewpoint. His experiences in post-Apartheid South Africa as a mixed-race child make him uniquely situated to understand multiple sides of a racial argument. In addition, his story provides an excellent background for understanding the nuances of race and skin color and the internal decision-making any person of color must make when entering a room filled with white people.

By all accounts, Mr. Noah had multiple brushes with death and faced a childhood that the system had rigged to fail him. Mr. Noah recognizes all this and acknowledges that his success is due mostly to the formidable woman that is his mother. Each of his stories shows the remarkable independence his mother had and taught her sons. More importantly, each shows the lengths to which his mother was willing to go to make sure he had a chance to beat the rigged system that was South Africa. Her methods might appear harsh to white readers, but I suspect any Black person reading it will recognize the desperation his mother had to teach her son the harsh realities of the world before he discovered them for himself.

Whether it is a coping mechanism or an aspect of his comedian background, in Born a Crime, Mr. Noah finds ways to make the most shocking stories palatable, almost funny. He does this while maintaining the reverence such serious history deserves. In a way, it is as if he is marveling at the fact that he faced so many things without knowing how remarkable they truly are as much as his audience is. At the same time, underlying the comedy is a poignancy and gratitude for having escaped, which makes sense the more you learn.

Being eight years older than Mr. Noah, I too grew up both during and after Apartheid, except, as I quickly learned from the book, I had no idea what Apartheid really was. I only knew it was bad and racist. Plus, I had a faint idea that it involved white people holding all the power. What I did not know was that it was slavery in a modern-day format. Nor did I have a clue just how far the Apartheid government went to subjugate its Black inhabitants. Before going into any of his own stories, Mr. Noah is careful to enlighten his readers with the necessary understanding of the racial, political, tribal, socio-economic, geographical, historical, and other cultural factors that make his stories so remarkable. Thus, not only do you learn about his life, you learn quite a bit about South Africa in the 1990s and 2000s.

Mr. Noah’s narration is beyond excellent. I particularly delighted in hearing him speak the many African languages he knows. Plus, as with any autobiography, hearing the author’s story from his own lips imbues it with an intimacy that other narrators cannot bring to his words. Even if this is one you already read, I highly recommend listening to the audiobook for the pronunciations and inflections that only Mr. Noah can add.

Part of becoming anti-racist is becoming empathetic to people of color and their experiences. In Born a Crime, Mr. Noah provides readers with firsthand insight into a racist world. While you might never experience racism yourself, Mr. Noah makes it easy to put yourself into his shoes. As such, in our current society, where it is more important than ever to recognize systemic racism and the damage it inflicts on anyone of color, Born a Crime becomes an important stopping point along the journey towards anti-racism.

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