A few months ago, when I got to know about Trevor Noah and his shows for the first time on the internet, I didn’t have the slightest idea about his background and personal life. He was a comedian, I knew this, and a black African-American who hosted many shows around the US, nothing more than that. It was only recently that I learned about his personal life, his childhood in South Africa, how did he get to where he currently is, how life was like under the apartheid system, and, most importantly, what was “his story”?
Born a Crime (Review)
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood is an autobiography written by Trevor Noah that answers all the aforementioned questions. The book depicts not only his childhood back in his homeland, South Africa, but also draws a clear picture of the social system of the society back there, established but immoral beliefs of the apartheid system, the deep divisions among the different ethnic groups of the country, and – of course – his crime-like life as a child. The book is also valuable because Trevor Noah, the writer, blatantly expresses his beliefs about racism and what it means or should mean, and by putting the issue in a bigger context, he raises some big questions.
Even his birth was against the social setup of the apartheid system of South Africa. He was born to a black mom and a white father, which inevitably went against the social organization of society. Under the apartheid system of Africa, black women were for black men and white men, of course, for white women, making the inter-race marriages unacceptable. And later, when he, Trevor Noah, was born as a colored child – neither black nor white – he became the biggest sign of the crime his parents had committed. It is here that the book gets its title from: “Born a Crime.”
Being born to a marriage that is against the social norms, he could never live an ordinary life and was eventually denied all the privileges entertained by other children. His father never lived with them together, and if they needed to meet him, it had to be out of peoples’ sight; people would think it disgraceful. They could never walk on the road together, couldn’t share the same space in public places, and he was denied the privilege of calling his dad, ‘dad.’ His dad was his dad only within the premises of his house. And on the social level, he was an outsider to every class of the society, for he didn’t fit well on the hierarchical ladder of racism. His mother was black, his maternal grandparents were black, his cousins were black, so as he lived and grown up with them, he identified himself as black. But on the surface, he was only a colored. But at a certain point in life you have to choose, he recalls, and he mostly chooses to interact with black children. But was always seen as the other in each group.
On the other hand, the book is also about the lives of every African that has been suffering and moaning under the trampling oppressions of racism and colonialism. He suffered in the brutal hands of this dividing system, he knew this, but he was not alone and the only person going through it. Generations of native black Africans had a life worse than his. He was lucky that the apartheid system ended under Nelson Mandela’s leadership when he was only five years old. As a result, he could attend mix schools and interact with whatever group he wanted. He was able to choose for himself and his future; he was not forced to go to special schools built only for black people who only taught black children the art and ethics of slavery. In a sense, he was the first generation of black Africans to truly feel their existence as human beings, and identify themselves as a person in the diverse society of humans.
One of the main characters in the book, and in his life too, is Trevor’s mother, whom he regards as the one who shaped his life and made him ‘a man.’ “She was preparing me to live a life of freedom long before we knew freedom would exist,” he remarks about her. As a single mom, she supports his studies and educates him in the English language, a privilege back then. Throughout the book, the reader will find her a kind, good-hearted mother who really cared for her children. And her character is the living example of the quote: Behind every successful man, there is a woman."The book is also about the lives of every African that has been suffering and moaning under the trampling oppressions of racism and colonialism." Click To Tweet
On a personal level, reading the book, one lives a life stretched over realms with their exact opposites. I read a story of poverty, but also about the richness of heart and character. I witnessed the utmost example of human viciousness when Trevor’s stepfather shot his mother in the head but did also find the generosity of character when she tried to protect their child instead of herself. I also found how life can test us in so many different ways, and how we can cope with its trials no matter how chaotic. The real love of a mother, the naughtiness of a child, the difficulties they share, and all other things in between have been accumulated in this book. Though the writer’s tone is comedic and never hesitates to make fun of anything, but one has to read between the lines and get the message that the writer wants to convey through his book: this racism is not going to work, our skin color should not be merit.
This book is a voice coming out of black ghettos, where Trevor, coming out of dark and shabby alleys, protests the laws that are not only immoral but even funny. It invites the world to reconsider its values and let not someone be stripped of his or her dignity just because of their skin color.
Besides the content, the book’s title sincerely stitches to what it says: the story of a South African childhood. So, don’t expect to read just another autobiography that chronicles the life events of the writer from the beginning to the end. It is only the story of his childhood in South Africa as a child and ends with his childhood. Besides, since a special volume is exclusively published for teenaged readers, the book can be read by everyone, regardless of age. It is especially useful for people interested in reading it with their children at home.