Author: Trevor Noah
Title: Born a crime
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. Nelson Mandela
In a post apartheid nation some have it a lot easier than others, Trevor Noah the author of this biographical novel is on the other end of the stick. Despite Trevor being one of the nicest and funniest guys I’ve ever read about he is not seen this way by everyone due to his parents being mixed races. Yeah that’s right, a black mother giving birth to a child whose father is white is a big Cha Cha(Zulu for No No) in the post apartheid country. South Africa was and still is split by colour which creates these strong social and racial barriers that will take decades to break down. However this isn’t a story of Trevor Noah’s struggles but a story of the struggle around him.
To describe how bad Trevor Noah’s situation was let’s take a scenario in the book that to anyone reading will consider ordinary. A walk in the park with his parents. You must understand that there is a very big difference between the ordinary in Trevor’s life and our lives. His mother couldn’t simply take her six year old son into the park holding hands with her white husband. Instead Patricia Noah had to dress up as a maid, get a lighter skinned friend to walk beside her husband to act as a couple and then and only then could she even be remotely close to her husband in public. To Trevor this is the only world he’s ever known, a world of struggle. But it was never his struggle. This was one of the first eye opening moments in the book because it gave me a glimpse into another country I have heard so little of and how ill minded the people their can be. We live among people and for there to be groups of people who can’t have normal families based on there colour is disturbing. I think the reason this occurs in countries such as South Africa is because we don’t question how we treat one another enough. In this particular case the white people are never seen to be questioning their own actions but instead putting the blame on somebody else. In places like school I can see lots of judgement but little thought. I have seen many instances where kids are picking on the odd one out, Verbally bullying through judgement, harassment and most importantly the stuff that is said behind others backs. The bullies never question their actions until someone with higher authority steps in and unfortunately a lot of it goes unnoticed until someone speaks up about it. For those receiving all the harassment it will become embedded in them as normal unless they can find a resolution. In life there will always be the bullies and the receivers. How do the receivers in South Africa react? With violence. You can blame the man who shot a man for pulling the trigger but who blames the man who made him feel the urge to pull the trigger. The change isn’t going to come from the receivers, it’s going to come from the bullies. Yet we expect a change to come from those causing all the violence but cant see where the problem arises from. It’s an endless cycle that hasn’t seen a resolution for centuries. However to Trevor he didn’t see any of the world like this for he could see the truth.“As a kid I understood that people were different colors, but in my head white and black and brown were like types of chocolate. Dad was the white chocolate, mom was the dark chocolate, and I was the milk chocolate. But we were all just chocolate.” Trevor could see people for what they were, people. There was no stigma around colours for him and I think this is heavily due to how he was raised. It is the people that create the problems not the people that are the problem. When the masses in South Africa begin to realize this it will allow for big changes to be made ever since the last big changes that resulted from the end of apartheid.
As you are speaking to someone it’s respectful to look them in the eyes. It shows you are engaging with them and being respectful towards them and their words. I speak English to those around me because it is New Zealand’s first and most common language. It is uncommon to speak more than one language in NZ however it is very uncommon to not speak more than two languages in South Africa. This is because there is eleven different languages in South Africa and many people there know English because English is where the money is. In South Africa Trevor was seen as a white boy among the blacks due to his lighter skin tone. But as soon as Trevor grasped onto new languages he used them in conversations with others from different tribes. This was when people first started accepting Trevor as one of their own because he knew their language. However at first glance they would perceive him as a white person who speaks English because that’s how he appeared on the outside. Trevor’s mother, Patricia Noah had adopted many languages through her surroundings, doing so helped her get around much easier with a lighter skinned child by being able to communicate with a larger variety of people and ask for tips such as shortcuts through the city. Naturally her knowledge of languages was passed onto Trevor who too became very fluent in these languages. Language served Trevor as a way to be accepted by others who perceived him as something else. It gave him belonging within groups of people that misjudged him otherwise. Translation from Zulu to English- ‘ “Let’s get this white guy. You go left, and I’ll come up behind him.” I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t run, so I just spun around real quick and said “Yo, guys, why don’t we mug someone together? I’m ready. Let’s do it.” They looked shocked for a moment, and then they started laughing. “Oh, sorry, dude. We thought you were something else. We weren’t trying to take anything from you. We were were trying to steal from white people.” ’ This stuck with me throughout the course of the book because as Trevor phrased it, ‘even more than colour, language defines who you are to people’. As soon as these men heard him speak in their tongue they became part of the same tribe and Trevor was no longer seen as a threat to them, they were family. Language breaks down the racial barriers in South Africa and allows people to connect with one another. I now realize how important language is to the people in these types of countries because it brings them closer together as a group of people. It’s no good to have people speaking Zulu to Afrikaans because they won’t understand each other, but with a common language they can all speak and share their ideas together. In South Africa this common language is English which allows for everyone to be on the same foot. However it will take a number of decades for education to reach a level where everyone can be taught English. Hypothetically if you were given the choice to learn English but were a sufferer of apartheid would you really want to learn the language of those that put you through that pain?
The story of Trevor Noah is a odd one that will have you gripped until the end. Born a crime made me ask questions about the world we live in and started up some very interesting conversations with my parents . The book is from the real perspective of a coloured South African who gives us a honest point of view on South Africa. Trevor Noah’s book is valuable for anyone wanting to be educated on post apartheid South Africa because it ‘s from somebody’s personal experience which is often the best way to get a perspective on something. If you want to be opened up to the world of post apartheid South Africa in a novel filled with plenty of thought provoking and humorous text then I’d highly recommend to pick this book up right now.