Experiencing Apartheid and Colorism in Trevor Noah's Born a Crime

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In his book, Born A Crime, Trevor Noah recounts experiences from his childhood during Apartheid and how they shaped his perspective on different aspects of his life. Noah is primarily known as a comedian, so for the majority of the book he uses a humorous tone to captivate his audience. The author’s purpose is to show how the color of his skin affected how he was treated during the race based structure of Government known as Apartheid. He places emphasis on how being a mixed child made him feel as though he never belonged anywhere. He never quite knew his identity. However, he also made the point that language and religion allowed him to become a “chameleon” to blend in with multiple groups. Lastly, Trevor Noah’s memoir is also a dedication to his mother, who’s fearless and headstrong revolting against the laws of Apartheid which shaped his attitude and way of thinking. How did Apartheid shape Trevor and how were his values and beliefs molded by his mother and friends around him? Growing up in Apartheid and post Apartheid in South Africa developed an open mind and personality for Trevor. He developed his social view because of the influences and the people he surrounded himself by learning to blend in with others, resisting discrimination, respecting others and building a relationship with his father.

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Noah prides himself on his ability to fit into a variety of situations and forge friendships with different groups of young people: “Ever the outsider, I created my own strange little world” (p. 139). He continues, “Since I belonged to no group I learned to move seamlessly between groups. I was a chameleon, still, a cultural chameleon” (p. 140). Before he decides to leave Alexandra, Noah realizes that, “Bongani and the other East Bank guys, because of where they were from, what they looked like—they just had very little hope . . . in the back of my mind I knew I had other options. I could leave. They couldn’t” (p. 224). Later, when he is in a prison holding cell, he concludes that “racism exists, and you have to pick a side. You can say that you don’t pick sides, but eventually life will force you to pick a side” (p. 240). Assess all the moments throughout the book where Noah acts like a chameleon, noting the benefits and costs of that ability to adapt to a number of situations.

Trevor learns how to fight against the racism from his mother.Through the first part of the memoir Trevor talks about the discrimination that the natives incur in their daily lives and how they used to live in during the apartheid era. Trevor’s mother believed in equality. She disagrees with the policies that restricts the natives from receiving their full rights. “My mom used to take me on drives through fancy white neighborhoods. We’d look at their wall, mostly, because that’s all we could see from the road. We’d look at a wall that ran from one end of the block to the other and go. Wow. That’s only one house. All of that is for one family. Sometimes we’d pull over and go up to the wall, and she’d put me up on her shoulders like I was a little periscope” (p. 73). In the quote above Situational irony is explicitly shown when Trevor and his mother went to a white neighbourhood that they were restricted to go to, however, Patricia, Trevor's mom, insisted on staying so she can show her son what the world is really like. Patricia also refused to accept the system of apartheid and worked around it to give her son a formal education just like a “White” man. When Noah knows that “People thought my mom was crazy [...] many people had internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own. Why teach a black child white things? Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom: 'Why do this? Why show him the world when he's never going to leave the ghetto?” (P.57) She opened up his mind to a wider world of possibilities, she raised him as if he was white child help him realize what there is for him in the world beyond their impoverished apartheid life.

He also learns how to respect others from his mother. As a child, Noah is often frustrated by his mother's strict discipline and attempt to monitor his behavior. However, he also loves when they have fun together, and he appreciates how she makes everyday life adventurous. Even from a young age, Noah knows that his mother will stand up for him when she believes in his perspective, and that she expects people to treat him with respect. As he grows older, Noah appreciates his mother's strength and resilience, but he also becomes frustrated as to why she chooses to stay with Abel even after Abel becomes abusive. Eventually, Noah grows apart from his mother because he cannot relate to her decisions. However, he always sees her as the center of his life and feels loving and protective towards her. As he grows older, he comes to see that people are complex, and he develops more respect for the way his mother has lived her life.

Trevor knows that there is importance of the relationship with his father. When Patricia first wants to conceive a child, she reassures Robert that he does not have to be involved in the child's life at all. However, after Noah is born, Robert realizes he does want to play a role in his son's life. Although he cannot openly own the relationship because it is technically illegal for him to be the father of a mixed-race child, Robert makes an effort to regularly spend time with his son, and the two have an affectionate relationship. However, as Noah gets older, the two drift apart, and the presence of Abel in Noah's life also makes maintaining a relationship more complicated. Robert eventually moves to another city, and the two lose touch entirely. Patricia, however, insists that Noah track Robert down, explaining that “‘he’s a piece of you [...] and if you don’t find him you won’t find yourself’” (p. 101). When he is twenty-four, Noah reconnects with his father and is moved to find out that Robert knows all about his career and has been taking an interest in him. He knows it will take time to rebuild their relationship, but he is open to trying. Explore the importance of Noah’s decision to forge a relationship with his father, Robert. Focus on the moment when Robert shows him the scrapbook of Noah’s accomplishments, and then compare that to Noah’s assertion that “Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being” (p. 110). But true love evaded him and his mother for much of their life. After the relationship with Noah’s father ended, Ms. Noah married with another man who sometimes hit her and Noah. 

Apartheid ended halfway through Noah’s childhood. While this meant that he could officially attend schools with people from all races, the cliques within each school remained segregated. For much of Noah’s memoir, he focuses on this idea of people being segregated, either forcibly, and by the government, or of their own volition. Noah always felt divided and like he never fit in anywhere because of his skin color. Noah’s mom is black, while his dad is white; under apartheid in South Africa, this meant that he would be legally classified as non-white. However, he soon realizes that although he is legally considered “colored,” he identifies as being black. This evolution of his self-perceived identity is a major thread that connects each chapter and is witnessed through his interactions with the people and places around him. 

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