I never sit down and watch The Daily Show, but over the years I have seen quite a lot from people just sharing the videos. Since Trevor Noah took over, very few clips have made their way to me, so I wonder how well the switch from Jon Stewart is going. I imagine it’ll take some time for him to find his stride on there, and I do hope he’s given the chance, because, from watching his stand-up and reading this book, it’s clear he’s the type of person that needs to be on American television right now.
Trevor Noah was born in South Africa during the apartheid. His father is a white Swiss man and his mother a black Xhosa woman, which is where the title comes in. It was illegal to have a child of mixed-race at the time, and the stories of him growing up with parents who were not allowed to be seen with him in public are heartbreaking, but he also manages to make them hilarious. This whole book is a testament to finding the humour in dire situations.
If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.
One thing I really found interesting was how racial lines were handled during that time. There were, of course, black people and white people. Those of mixed race are classified as coloured in South Africa, which isn’t the derogatory term that it is in North America. There are obviously racist attitudes towards those people, but the term itself apparently isn’t treated as a slur. But just to drive home how ridiculous the classifications get, for convenience sake everyone was placed into one of these three categories. So Japanese people were labelled as white and Chinese as coloured, for example, and people could apply with the government to have their classification changed depending on their skin shade and economic standing. It really was idiotic, and I believe a lot of those attitudes still exist to a certain extent in the country.
This is his story of growing up poor in a country that didn’t think he should exist. His father couldn’t be seen with him, and his mother had to pretend he wasn’t her son or risk him being taken away. He grew up with a violent and unpredictable drunk of a step-father and had a lot to struggle through, but he also grew up with an incredibly strong mother who clearly had a huge influence on him. It’s not just his story that’s interesting; it’s his outlook and the lessons he learned from his family and his life experiences. This isn’t a comedy book, it deals with some very dark subject matter, but it’s written by someone who can’t help but be funny.
I would highly recommend the audio book. Trevor Noah is a natural storyteller, his narration of this book is brilliant, and you also get the added bonus of listening to him speak phrases in Xhosa. That’s the language with the clicks that you may have occasionally seen Robin Williams mimic, but it really is beautiful and mesmerizing to hear.
Nelson Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.
Loved every minute of this. If you enjoy memoirs, I don’t think you can go wrong with Born a Crime.