Trevor Noah tackles race, religion and how he struggled with his identity while growing up in South Africa during apartheid in “Born A Crime”.
Religion being the back drop of his childhood, Noah points out that apartheid was created to rip away the religion, history, culture; everything that makes a group of people who they are.
“South Africa is a mix of the old and the new, the ancient and the modern, and South African Christianity is a perfect example of this. We adopted the religion of our colonizers, but most people held on to the old ancestral ways, too just in case. In South Africa, faith in the Holy Trinity exists quite comfortably alongside belief in witchcraft, in casting spells and putting curses on one’s enemies.”
Whether it be for Sunday service or prayer, church played a huge part in his upbringing. Him and his mother attended church at least four times a week; three times on Sunday.
“The reason we went to three churches was because my mom said each church gave her something different. The first church offered jubilant praise of the Lord. The second offered deep analysis of the scripture, which my mom loved. The third church offered passion and catharsis; it was a place where you truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit inside you. Completely by coincidence, as we moved back and forth between these churches, I noticed that each one had its own distinct racial makeup: Jubilant church was mixed church. Analytical church was white church. And passionate, cathartic church, that was the black church.”
He opens up about how he struggled with his identity, as the product of a black mother and a white [Swiss/German] father. He was unable to be seen in public with his parents, for fear of being taken away, or worse.
“Where most children are proof of their parents’ love, I was the proof of their criminality. The only time I could be with my father was indoors. If we left the house, he’d have to walk across the street from us. I couldn’t walk with my mother, either; a light-skinned child with a black woman would raise too many questions.”
Noah shares his experiences with adolescences and relating to his peers. He found it difficult in choosing which group he identified with. He often used humor to fit in making awkward situations less uncomfortable. It was his sense of humor that helped ease him into the varying groups broken down by race throughout school.
According to Noah, “One of the most sinister things about apartheid was that it taught colored people that it was black people who were holding them back. Apartheid said that the only reason colored people couldn’t have first-class status was because black people might use coloredness to sneak past the gates to enjoy the benefits of whiteness. That’s what apartheid did: It convinced every group that it was because of the other race that they didn’t get into the “Club”. But the truth is that none of you were ever getting into the that Club.”
Born A Crime was a great read. I enjoyed going on the journey through Trevor Noah’s childhood, learning that even after all that he’d gone through he made it. Great read, couldn’t put it down.