Born a Crime By Trevor Noah

by - June 28, 2018

The name Trevor Noah isn’t unfamiliar to me but neither do I know his story. I have never seen him on TV before however I’ve watched several of his funny clips on Facebook and I must confess I find him very witty and amusing which means every chance I get I love to watch his short clips on comedy central. I had assumed he was an African American by origin because of his skin color and had never verified, color doesn’t lie, or so I thought.

Born a Crime was the perfect title for this autobiography considering the apartheid atmosphere in South Africa, him being a “…half-white, half-black child who violated any number of laws, statutes, and regulations…” (25). There was something called the Immorality Act of 1927 which made illicitly the carnal intercourse between Europeans and native blacks, anyone caught prohibiting this rule had committed an offense and was liable to imprisonment for a period of time. Trevor had a rough childhood because of this situation, neither his mother nor father could openly identify as his parents because that would mean they were guilty under the Immorality Act and could be imprisoned.
His mother was a central part of his life because she was single parenting most of the time and the majority of his memorable childhood experiences were around her. The book opened to the first experience he had jumping out of a moving vehicle with his mother and ended with how she was shot repeatedly by his stepfather. This incident had a lasting effect on him and he even says “To this day I hate secondhand cars. Almost everything that’s ever gone wrong in my life I can trace back to a second-hand car. Secondhand cars made me get detention for being late for school. Secondhand cars left us hitching on the side of the freeway. A secondhand car was also the reason my mom got married. If it hadn’t been for the Volkswagen that didn’t work, we never would have looked for the mechanic who became the husband who became the stepfather who became the man who tortured us for years and put a bullet in the back of my mother’s head- I’ll take the new car with the warranty every time.” (12).

The beautiful thing about this book is that we get an insight of the experiences of the blacks in South Africa from a mixed child who considered himself black. This is a very important perspective because Trevor chose the hard route, he chose to be black to being colored every time a choice came up; he didn’t for once aspire to be colored or even white, even though “It was illegal to be mixed (to have a black parent and a white parent), but it was not illegal to be colored (to have two parents who are both colored). (26). He grew up around his mother’s family since he couldn’t make open contact with his father, and they were highly protective of him for the reason that “Children could be taken. Children were taken. The wrong color kid in the wrong color area and the government could come in, strip your parents of custody, haul you off to an orphanage.” (28).

The theme of apartheid is a foremost theme of the novel, and the author revealed how this situation affected him and other children in South Africa, thus he says “the fact that I grew up in a world run by women was no accident. Apartheid kept me away from my father because he was white, but for almost all the kids on my grandmother’s block in Soweto, apartheid had taken away their fathers as well, just for different reasons. Their fathers were off working in a mine somewhere, able to come home only during the holidays. Their fathers had been sent to prison. Their fathers were in exile, fighting for the cause. Women held the community together. “Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!” was the chant they would rally to during the freedom struggle. “When you strike a woman, you strike a rock.” As a nation, we recognized the power of women, but in the home, they were expected to submit and obey.”(34).

Another strong theme in this book is that of domestic violence, the book exposes the popular ideologies of most South African men about women. All over the book are instances of these philosophies being acted upon, for example, “If you don’t hit your woman, you don’t love her. This was the talk you’d hear from men in bars and in the streets.”(32). It’s really ironic that as a nation they recognized that they needed the support of women to fight against apartheid, they needed their women to resist any form of white dominance but thought it was totally okay to dictate and control these women at home. At home, they were only recognized as wives and every right they possessed as humans were second to those of their husbands. Whenever these women had enough, they had only one option of protesting, meting violence with violence. Here the author recounts “In Soweto, you were always hearing about men getting doused with pots of boiling water – often the woman’s only recourse. And men were lucky if it was water. Some women used hot cooking oil. Water was if the woman wanted to teach her man a lesson. Oil meant she wanted to end it.” (33).

Another striking thing about this book is that it teaches the power of language, the author shows how he was readily accepted by different groups and tribes because he spoke their language. South Africa has a multicultural setting and is linguistically pluralistic in nature. Being a polyglot put in an advantaged position, this shows the power language has over a people.
This book although very personal is also very witty in nature, I truly enjoyed reading it and the fact that the author was able to descriptively present memories from his childhood is beyond amazing. I really hope there would be a sequel telling us how he migrated to America and became the successful man he is.

I give this book a 4 star**** because I thirst for more and I really hope a sequel comes soon. 

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