Trevor Noah’s grandmother, Frances, has nothing against beating naughty children. In chapter four of Born a Crime, “Chameleon,” Frances beats Trevor’s cousins, Bulelwa and Mlungisi, after finding them playing a particularly injurious game of doctor. She doesn’t touch Trevor, even though he is the one who perforated Bulelwa’s eardrum while performing “surgery” with matchsticks for instruments.
When Trevor’s mother comes home and takes in the scene, she asks Frances, who is crying, what is going on.
“Oh, Nombuyiselo,” she said. “Trevor is so naughty. He’s the naughtiest child I’ve ever come across in my life.”
“Then you should hit him.”
“I can’t hit him.”
“Because I don’t know how to hit a white child,” she said. "A black child, I understand. A black child, you hit them and they stay black. Trevor, when you hit him he turns blue and green and yellow and red. I’ve never seen those colors before. I’m scared I’m going to break him. I don’t want to kill a white person. I’m so afraid. I’m not going to touch him.” And she never did.
Trevor’s grandparents defer to the power of whiteness in South Africa under apartheid, even when that power is held within the body of a misbehaving child. They are afraid of the repercussions of harming a white person, unused to the way Trevor’s light brown skin shows bruises, and unwilling to break the racially-based hierarchy long ingrained in their society.
Consider what Frances' response means for Bulelwa and Mlungisi, who presumably do not show visible bruising. I think there is an analogy to be made between this scene and apartheid as a system. What do you think?