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Born a Crime

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Trevor Noah, South African comedian, recent emigrant to the U.S., and currently the host of The Daily Show (having inherited the title from Jon Stewart). Before he became a familiar name in comedy, Noah struggled to name his own identity growing up under Apartheid in South Africa. In Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, Noah revisits his childhood and coming-of-age through a series of vignettes that are paralleled with footnote entries on the historical events that made Apartheid possible.

The book opens with the shocking experience of Noah being thrown from a moving car. The event is normalized by the end of the chapter as it is juxtaposed with the horrors of daily life. Noah examines his youth in the Xhosa culture and the beliefs of his deeply religious family. He grapples with his view of God and his frustration with his mother’s unwillingness to verbalize the stark realities of their existence. “It didn’t matter that there was a war on our doorstep. She had things to do, places to be… She’d tell me not to worry. She always came back to the phrase she lived by. ‘If God is with me, who can be against me?’ She was never scared. Even when she should have been.”

While Noah navigates life at home, he also faces life in the world as a mixed-race child- something Apartheid hopes to prevent through separation. As a result of not knowing whether to identify as black or white, apartheid grants him the ability to see the ridiculous ways in which prejudice blinds everyone around him. When a friend gets into trouble, Noah evades the police due to the limitations of technology, as well as their willful ignorance — the recorded video of him and his friend distorts his color, making him appear white. “At a certain point, I felt so invisible I almost wanted to take credit… But of course I didn’t… These people had been so f-d by their own construct of race that they could not see that the white person they were looking for was sitting right in front of them.”

Noah brings comedy to every story, even when the laughter ends in tears and leaves the reader facing racism’s stark reality and the ways it continues to affect the world. Anyone who has ever struggled with parental authority, fitting into a social stratum, or gaining a handle on their own view of the world will find these stories asking the questions: “Where have you come from?” and “Who is it you have become?”

Younger readers, in particular, may strongly relate to Noah and his ability to adapt to his circumstances as he grows into adulthood. Parents today will also find the historical anecdotes helpful in educating their children on how to navigate the world and its difficulties.

Born A Crime delightfully uncomplicates issues that today continue to be shrouded in the ‘mystery’ of ignorance and contempt, shining a light on hardships that those who have been marginalized and oppressed have struggled to articulate.  – Brandy Burgess

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