Why you should read ‘Born a crime’ by Trevor Noah

I recently read ‘Born a crime’ by Trevor noah.I’ve been watching Trevor Noah for a long time now.He is a stand up comedian ,and often talkes about racism in his work, but here we really get to see its spread and depth.

Summary: The book basically tells us about life during apartheid[1] .Trevor Noah is born to a white man and black woman,and that was a crime during apartheid.He speaks about the abuse their family suffered at the hands of his alcoholic stepfather,his struggle being ‘coloured’ ,poverty,and most importantly his mother.

“Where most children are proof of their parents’ love, I was the proof of their criminality.”-Born a crime.

Two things that Trevor has talked the most in the book is

  • Racism
  • His mom

And both of them surprised me.

1) Racism

This book showed layers of racism and how the colour of your skin wasn’t the only thing that would constitute the importance of your race.

For example Chinese people were classified as black.But since the Englishmen wanted the develop good relations with the Japanese, they were given the honorary ‘ ‘white’ status.

“I always like to imagine being a South African policeman who likely couldn’t tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese but whose job was to make sure that people of the wrong color weren’t doing the wrong thing. If he saw an Asian person sitting on a whites-only bench, what would he say?

“Hey, get off that bench, you Chinaman!”

“Excuse me. I’m Japanese.”

“Oh, I apologize, sir. I didn’t mean to be racist. Have a lovely afternoon.”

And by the way they had a whole different perspective of what racist behavior is.They didn’t apologize for being racist,they apologizd for aiming their racism at the wrong person.


Trevor says the was was considered ‘white’ by black people and ‘black’ by white people.But that wasn’t it,there were many divisions among the black themselves. He says that his biggest tool was languages.His mother taught him English and many other languages,he himself picked up a few by listening.

“I became a chameleon. My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color.

If you spoke Zulu, I replied to you in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied to you in Tswana. Maybe I didn’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you.”

Racism has so many layers,its crazy.This book navigated through it like butter.For the first time we get to see how it is to be stuck in a cycle.

And this whole system was created to keep black people in a cycle.I knew what apartheid was in defination,but we get to see it in true sense.

It was illegal to be mixed (to have a black parent and a white parent), but it was not illegal to be colored (to have two parents who were both colored). So my mom moved me around the world as a colored child. She found a crèche in a colored area where she could leave me while she was at work. There was a colored woman named Queen who lived in our block of flats. When we wanted to go out to the park, my mom would invite her to go with us. Queen would walk next to me and act like she was my mother, and my mother would walk a few steps behind, like she was the maid working for the color.

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He says how a lot of people don’t have the most basic block of improvement ie.opportunity.

“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”

Then there’s the hood[2] .The hood is basically a more poorer parts of the society. Like slums in Mumbai.The people of the hood were taught how to fish,but they weren’t given a fishing rod.

These people couldn’t get higher education since they couldn’t afford it.if they got a decent manual Job,they would often get fired on suspicion on stealing.They would have to come back to the crime they were surrounded by.

Although Trevor wasn’t originally from the hood,we feels he belongs there due to their sense of community.

2) Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah.(Mother)

Patricia—this woman is EPIC. .She is 30 years ahead of her time.If you follow Trevor, you’ll know he often talks about how badass a his mom was.Now– I truly understand.

When Trevor said that his parents were an interracial couple,I thought Trevor was probably not a planned child and it for brave of their parents to keep him.well I was surprised to know that he was in fact a planned child.His mother wanted a child and she knew that Trevor’s dad was the man she wanted her child with.She knew the consequences so did Trevor’s dad,Robert, but he agreed anyway.She told him he doesn’t need to be involved in Trevor’s life of he doesn’t want to.But Robert decided to stay.They obviously never got to live together due to apartheid laws.

One of my favourite and most amusing Patricia’s-rebellion stories is when she gets married to boyfriend, Abel and they have a kid.

They go to visit his village Tzaneen for the first time.

“Tsnoga culture,I learned was extremely patriarchal.We’re talking about a world where women have to bow when they greet a man.

Men were not allowed in the kitchen.As a nine year old boy,I thought this was fantastic. At my house my mom was forever making me do the chores–wash the dishes, sweep the house.

My mom thought the whole ‘bowing to men tradition’ was absurd.

Patricia Noah stayed at no one kitchen,she was a free spirit.She didn’t refuse to bow,she overdid it.

My mom would go down and cower,grovelling in the dirt like she was worshipping a deity,and she would stay down for like a really long time,long enough to make everyone uncomfortable.”

Throughout the book,the things that she does,I wouldn’t have the guts to do today inspite of living in much more advanced society. Its obvious how she played a very important role in Trevor’s upbringing.


This book touches many other topics such a masculinity and what it means to Trevor.

Despite of dealing with many heavy topics, ‘born a crime’ is actually pretty humorous. One of the very funny things was when he was talking about this time in hood,he said many people sold things that were obviously stolen (from white people) but no one really feel anything because apparently all ‘white people have insurance’ . No guilt.

This is definitely a book everyone should read.I myself am not a big fan of biographies, but I think this was one of the best books I’ve read so far.

Categories: Book Review

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