Born a Crime is an autobiography written by comedian Trevor Noah, where he reflects on his childhood under the racist laws of apartheid. It is thrilling to follow his experience because it showcases the horrors and unfairness of racism. He talks about being a chameleon among African people as a child of a black woman and a white man. He belonged to no group and tried to find his place in the world as a mix-raced person. The book explores his identity, the places he did not feel different, and reviews his life in detail, which can teach a person to be more understanding, socially responsible, and tolerant.
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Firstly, in his book, Noah talks about ‘being a chameleon’, which is an exciting part of the book. He is a person of color, which was considered illegal during apartheid. Yet he thought of himself as a black person because of his upbringing and the knowledge of several different African languages (Noah 40). As written in the book, he stayed the same color, but the perception of his color changed instantly when he changed the language he spoke. It was the benefit of knowing several African languages – he could respond to a robber in his native language, which instantly made Trevor a part of the robber’s culture, and that is why he was never robbed (Noah 42-43). However, the cost of that knowledge and the power to fit in almost with any group was the difficulty of finding his native identity. He did not know who he was, because he always had to choose sides ‘black or white, he did not realize his national identity because he belonged to Xhosa just as much as he belonged to the Swiss community.
As mentioned in the title of a book, Trevor was ‘born a crime’; he was living evidence of the ‘crime’ his parents committed under a racist regime. He was ‘too white’ to be considered black, and at the same time, he was ‘too black’ to be considered white (Noah, 44). However, there was one place where he felt like race did not matter and he was accepted. It was the Maryvale school, where children did not get teased because of the color of their skin, they were instead teased for general things like being too smart, too dumb, too skinny, or too fat (Noah 44-45). In that place, he felt as if he was accepted, which changed as he entered the new school H.A. Jack Primary, where he again became different. Black kids and one Indian kid recognized him, but he was still an anomaly, an exception, a crime (Noah 44-45). Although he felt like an outsider most of his life because of his skin color, he learned to live with those feelings and accept his identity.
Trevor Noah was a multilingual child with English as his first and primary language. In his book, he explained how under apartheid different languages resulted in greater oppression and division. For example, white people were discouraged from learning African languages because from early childhood, they were taught that those languages were beneath them (Noah 44). If one wanted to be employed somewhere of high prestige, one had to know English; otherwise, there was no chance to work in prestigious establishments. African languages and their language-bearers were also divided by different schools and believed that other words are enemy ones (Noah 43). When Trevor spoke to others in their native language, they viewed him as a person from their tribe’, as their own, and that is how he and his mother escaped various challenging situations throughout their life.
Language plays a rather important part in creating and sharing culture because the culture is often transferred through the tongue. A language has been created in a specific locality to preserve and pass down the culture of the people who are speaking it. One can observe the historical examples of how the national identity of some nations was ruined by destroying their native language first (as in the case of Romansh language, which people try to restore). A word can create unity because if one can understand the language another person speaks, primarily if this occurs in a foreign country, they feel like family or close friends. At the same time, if one language is demonized, using it in public can completely change the perception of another person.
As a bilingual person, I can share some advantages and disadvantages of knowing two languages. For example, when I speak to the other person, I can use the words from another language, as sometimes I can forget the most straightforward word in the needed language. It helps to understand a person from another country; it can be a great conversation starter that would interest many people. It would be easier for me to learn another language than for a person who can speak only one language. However, there are several disadvantages, for example, I can struggle to speak at an appropriate level in a professional setting. In addition, sometimes I can forget how to talk at all because, although I try to keep in mind and recycle both languages, I will always be better at one and worse at the other.
Speaking about the incidents I remembered the most in the book Born a Crime, it was an episode in the very beginning, where the mother was forced to throw her son out of the moving car to save his life. The man driving them was cursing the family for nothing and threatening to rape the mother and do worse to the children (Noah 16). That was when Patricia decided not to accept her fate calmly, but she made a choice, which saved her life and the lives of her children. After this situation, I started to look at that woman with admiration, because that episode not only showcased her inner strength, but she was wise enough not to make her children panic ahead of time. As the autobiography progressed, there were many similar stories, which showed her strength and will, but this one made the most significant impact on my mind.
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There are many characters in Born a Crime; however, the one who exemplifies Francian Values the most is Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah Trevor’s mother. First of all, as Lourdes is a community of learning, Patricia teaches her son English, to read, to write, to understand the world around him. She showed him the truth and tried to make him know that the world is big and following one’s dreams is necessary (Noah 51). As Lourdes is a community of reverence, Patricia recognized and respected all human beings, their dignity, and their worth. As much as she was strong, she saw the better in prostitutes, gangsters, and robbers. Patricia’s heart accepted Jesus, and that is why she was incredibly respectful, even though she could talk back to anyone to protect her dignity. As Lourdes is a community of service, she challenged her son to help those in need. Even in her childhood, Patricia gave everything to the children who had less than her. She tried to help everybody, which is why I think she is the best example of Francian values’ human embodiment.
This book teaches that living in a diverse community is more comfortable than living in a society when one person is unique. For example, the reader can observe how Trevor was treated in an all-black neighborhood, where he was exceptional. Older people were afraid of giving him proper punishments; they believed his prayers were better-heard because he prayed in English; he was a miracle, an abnormality (Noah 40). However, when his environment became more diverse, people stopped thinking that he was not normal and accepted him. If more diversity were implemented globally, people would forget about racism as they would stop judging a person based on one’s race. After all, different races would not be considered an abnormality. It became a part of my way of thinking as it should because the distinction of races ultimately creates more racism and unfairness.
To conclude, Born a Crime teaches the reader about integrity, being kind, and being open to everyone despite his physical traits, such as race. It also teaches one to be ethical and not to divide people into white, black, and people of color. Lastly, it teaches one to be socially responsible, like the mother of the main character. Patricia gave everything she could to her son, including proper education and a sense of morality. She had a responsibility as a parent and gave everything she could to all three of her children, even if that meant that Patricia herself would suffer from abusive relationships. Her social responsibility paid off at the end of the story when her son helped her pay for her treatment. She was responsible for him, and he responded with his responsible behavior towards her.
Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Hachette UK, 2016.