Trevor Noah’s self-told story (and it really is best if you listen to him read the book) of a kid growing up in apartheid South Africa brings today’s discussion of identity awareness and definition to a whole new level. It’s both a great read and an insightful treatise … if you want to learn how to find your way in a complicated world and enjoy the stories and jokes along the way, put it on the top of your list and read it next.
Trevor’s the product of an independently minded black mother and a “reserved and rational” white Swiss father who engage in a “crazy and reckless” act that brings Trevor into the world. His “mixed” existence, not white nor black but rather “colored”, was both illegal at the time and socially complicated. The time spent with his father growing up was “limited and restricted” — time together was spent only indoors so their crime of mixed-race copulation would not be discovered. As a result, his Dad was not central to his upbringing. Instead, his mother was the center of his universe, and she was mighty, determined, church-going, and lucky to do what she did as South Africa convulsed from apartheid to majority rule.
Apartheid, of course, is central to Trevor’s life and he describes it early on: “You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.” Descendents of early Dutch settlers who moved inland when the British took over the Cape Colony, the Afrikaaners became “a white tribe” that dominated all the others despite their severe minority numbers by deploying severe tactics. “In America, you had the forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.”
So what was it like for Trevor to grow up in a divided black and white society when he was neither? That’s really the point of the book and the source of his genius. Unable to identify directly with either, where whites and blacks both saw him as different, he sought any means to gain acceptance … and found language with a touch of humor as his key to both groups’ closed doors.
As he notes, a shared language means “we’re the same” while a language barrier says “we’re different.” “Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.” He spoke English and his mother’s native Xhosa at home, learned Afrikaans and a variety of tribal languages as well and discovered with vocabulary, accent, and intonation, he could be accepted anywhere … particularly if he brought just the right amount of humor to the mix.
His humor, coupled with language skills, colored mixed status, and his mother’s drive and direction, made him the man he became.
Yes, Trevor Noah was born a crime, and rather than accepting his sentence, he drew from his mom’s strength and built a personal conviction of listening, observing, and engaging with humor to make his mark in the world. He doesn’t back away from conflict, as any viewer of his late-night television show will attest. And he learned from his African roots, where instead of using the Zulu way of fighting to the death he employed his mother’s Xhosa technique of “thinking” and “playing chess” with his opponent.
Well done, Trevor. Well done, Trevor’s mom.
And because language, accent, and tone are so central to Trevor’s story, I recommend that you first read the book and then listen to it in Trevor’s voice. It’s the best multi-dimensional way to enjoy and learn from his multi-dimensional story.
Born a Crime
By Trevor Noah
#Authentic #Memoir #Politics #ReadItNext