Born A Crime - Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah is now the host of the Tonight Show, and wrote an incredible autobiography. To paraphrase a quote from an interview I heard (I believe on the Freakonomics Podcast), Trevor jokes about this autobiography, “It’s almost not fair. I had way more meaningful experiences than the other late night hosts. So, of course I had a better book.” His delightful and humble writing style gives snap shots into a boys life under Apartheid South Africa. Full of wisdom and humor.
But the more we went to church and the longer I sat in those pews the more I learned about how Christianity works: If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.
If I was about to get away she’d yell, “Stop! Thief!” She’d do this to her own child. In South Africa, nobody gets involved in other people’s business—unless it’s mob justice, and then everybody wants in. So she’d yell “Thief!” knowing it would bring the whole neighborhood out against me, and then I’d have strangers trying to grab me and tackle me, and I’d have to duck and dive and dodge them as well, all the while screaming, “I’m not a thief! I’m her son!”
There was maybe one car for every thousand people, yet almost everyone had a driveway. It was almost like building the driveway was a way of willing the car to happen. The story of Soweto is the story of the driveways. It’s a hopeful place.
I became a chameleon. My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color. If you spoke to me in 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.
It’s no coincidence that nearly every major black leader of the anti-apartheid movement, from Nelson Mandela to Steve Biko, was educated by the missionaries—a knowledgeable man is a free man, or at least a man who longs for freedom.
The only way to make apartheid work, therefore, was to cripple the black mind. Under apartheid, the government built what became known as Bantu schools. Bantu schools taught no science, no history, no civics. They taught metrics and agriculture: how to count potatoes, how to pave roads, chop wood, till the soil. “It does not serve the Bantu to learn history and science because he is primitive,” the government said. “This will only mislead him, showing him pastures in which he is not allowed to graze.” To their credit, they were simply being honest. Why educate a slave? Why teach someone Latin when his only purpose is to dig holes in the ground?
We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.
With online porn today you just drop straight into the madness, but with dial-up it took so long for the images to load. It was almost gentlemanly compared to now. You’d spend a good five minutes looking at her face, getting to know her as a person. Then a few minutes later you’d get some boobs. By the time you got to her vagina, you’d spent a lot of quality time together.
People don’t want to be rich. They want to be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money.
It’s easy to be judgmental about crime when you live in a world wealthy enough to be removed from it. But the hood taught me that everyone has different notions of right and wrong, different definitions of what constitutes crime, and what level of crime they’re willing to participate in.
The hood is also a low-stress, comfortable life. All your mental energy goes into getting by, so you don’t have to ask yourself any of the big questions. Who am I? Who am I supposed to be? Am I doing enough? In the hood you can be a forty-year-old man living in your mom’s house asking people for money and it’s not looked down on. You never feel like a failure in the hood, because someone’s always worse off than you, and you don’t feel like you need to do more, because the biggest success isn’t that much higher than you, either. It allows you to exist in a state of suspended animation.
Header photo © huffpost.com
Body photo © trevornoah.com