Most people know Trevor Noah for his political comedy skits on “The Daily Show” and some are familiar with his standup. I personally had no idea that Noah was a writer until this year. I stumbled upon his New York Times best selling book, Born A Crime, in English class. The title alone intrigued me. Right away I thought– how can one be born a crime?
The book starts off with the Immorality Act of 1927. Immediately, I knew one of the themes of Born A Crime would focus on Noah’s mixed descent and obstacles or issues it may have caused. He was referring to apartheid in South Africa. The stories of apartheid Noah includes are extremely informational. For one, as an American teen, I had never heard of the term “apartheid” nor did I know discrimination laws existed in South Africa. This was an eye opening experience because I realized that even in the the late nineteenth century, discrimination was based solely on skin tones. That’s mind blowing. To learn that Europeans came into Africa, ambushed, manipulated, and oppressed Black South Africans is unbelievably infuriating. I simply can’t begin to wrap my head around the ignorance and menacing hatred that exists in these ruthless people’s minds. Skin tones should not determine your worth/value in a society. Because of these heinous thought patterns that are passed down to generations, every BIPOC experiences some sort of internalized hatred for themselves because of what they have been taught to believe and it truly does ruin all sorts of self-confidence within the community. Surprisingly, this story isn’t about how Noah was oppressed and lived a life of inferiority. Instead, he constantly finds the humor in these unfortunate situations.
The sad fact is that I am not even all that surprised to learn this happened in Africa even after America had passed the Civil Rights Act because not every country moves at the same pace. I think it’s a good thing that America got involved with this act and was able to help bring an end to the injustice brought upon South African people.
Noah talks about how the education system failed South Africa and how they weren’t taught to think critically, which reminds me of the way American education is shaped as well. It trains you to think robotically. It barely teaches you things that are actually useful to your life as you get older. The same way that South Africans are uneducated about what goes on outside of South Africa–one of the funniest examples of this was the chapter titled, “Go Hitler”. Here in America we are barely taught about what happens outside of America unless it’s from something that happened 100 years ago.
One of the most heartfelt storylines in Born A Crime is when Noah recounts his “Tom & Jerry” relationship with his mother. Readers learn that Noah is born a crime because his father is white. Therefore he couldn’t be in his home. Noah shares many tales of what it was like to be raised by his strong-willed, brave, religious and seemingly fearless mother.
I think that teens should read Born A Crime because it is a book that teaches readers about apartheid in South Africa in a way that doesn’t feel like your typical history lesson. As an author, Noah keeps your attention by slipping jokes in between serious topics so not to make you feel too heavy about the subject. I like that he spoke to us as if we were casual friends but at the same time keeping everything professional. Overall, I would rate this book a 4 out of 5 because of its ability to shed light on serious issues in a humorous way.
Rating: 4 out of 5
By Jay Bryant, Senior, University High School
*The article was created in partnership with the Project Lit program at University High School in Newark, NJ.