Born a Crime

by Trevor Noah

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Chapters 15–16 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on March 9, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1201

Chapter 15

As Trevor’s business becomes more profitable, it also grows in scope. He starts with one CD writer, making one disc at a time, but soon invests the profits in several more so he can produce more inventory. At first, he is simply copying desirable albums. But soon, at Bongani’s recommendation, he is selecting the best songs from each record to make mixes of his own.

Before long, he starts mixing the tracks into each other like a DJ does at a club. The new CDs are incredibly popular, and he, Bongani, and Tom start making good money. The business is possible, he notes, because his friend gave him that first CD writer, a critical piece of infrastructure. It doesn’t matter how willing to work someone is, he realizes; often, someone from the privileged world still needs to be willing to provide resources for that industriousness to become fruitful.

Soon, Trevor and Bongani begin booking live DJ gigs at street parties in Alexandra, the township where Bongani and his family live. They become popular and start getting booked to play all around the region. As a makeshift office, they take up daily residence on a stretch of brick wall in front of Bongani’s house, where they sell CDs and start putting a dance crew together. The best dancer in their crew is, without a doubt, Bongani’s neighbor Hitler.

As he reveals this, the author offers some necessary historical context to mitigate the reader’s reaction: many Black South Africans did not really know much about Hitler or his atrocities, he contends. This is one of apartheid’s lasting legacies—Black students raised under its restrictions received sub-par educations that intentionally limited their knowledge of the larger world. His own grandfather, he reveals, thought “a hitler” was a type of tank the Germans used during the war rather than a person at all. Given the frequency with which historic figures have subjugated African people in their pursuit of progress or colonialism, Hitler disappears behind more immediately present figures of oppression.

People rarely question Trevor’s friend Hitler about his name, but it does embarrass them at one booking. They play a diversity program at the King David school, a Jewish school in a suburb called Linksfield. When they start cheering on their star dancer, the show gets shut down immediately. None of them understand why they’ve been asked to leave.

Chapter 16

Now in his late teens and a successful entrepreneur, Trevor is spending more and more time with Bongani in Alexandra, known as “Alex” by the people who live there. Among those who live in the townships, cheese is seen as a symbolic luxury; it is incredibly expensive, and adding cheese to something you’ve ordered is considered an ostentatious expression of your wealth. To call someone a “cheese boy” is to mock them for having it easy. Bongani, who lives on the first street of East Bank, the newest, nicest part of Alex, is just wealthy enough to be considered a cheese boy but just poor enough, as signified by his house’s location at the edge of the neighborhood, to be looked down on by its wealthier residents.

As they border on adulthood, both boys find themselves in a challenging demographic. The advent of democracy at the end of apartheid is a positive when it comes to human rights and civil liberties, but the immediate economic impact is somewhat more complicated. Democracy theoretically brought an end to modern slavery and guaranteed a minimum wage for all South Africans, but this increase in the cost of labor also put immense pressure on the job...

(This entire section contains 1201 words.)

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market and created mass unemployment. It is not just out of sheer luck that Trevor and Bongani have built themselves an enterprise—it is also out of necessity.

Eventually, their business of selling pirated music grows. They begin hustling, buying things from members of the community and flipping them for profit, allowing people to buy on credit with interest, and offering short-term loans. Though Trevor is aware that much of the inventory that comes through their hands is probably illegally obtained, he doesn’t think much of it at the time. “White people have insurance,” another hustler tells him. It’s only when someone sells him a digital camera with a family’s vacation photos on it that he recognizes the full impact.

Trevor soon suffers a second professional loss. As he’s performing at a street party one night, the police arrive and tell him to shut it down. He does, but it takes longer than the police like for him to safely close down his hard drive. They fire teargas into the crowd, and in the fray Trevor’s hard drive is damaged irreparably. The entire music business is lost: his pirated CDs, his original mixes, and his live performances.

Later, his dance crew is pulled off a minibus to Soweto by police. The police hone in on Trevor, demanding to know why he’s hanging around with “crooks” from Alex. One officer accuses him of trying to play around like he belongs somewhere he doesn’t, and the group is thrown in jail for the night. One is able to call in some money for a bribe, and they’re released the following day, but Trevor realizes something important—in a sense, he is an imposter here. He has chosen this version of life and has the freedom to return to another world. His peers, on the other hand, cannot.


In chapters 15 and 16, the author uses the evolution of his business as a backdrop to illustrate life in the townships.

The anecdote about his star dancer, named “Hitler,” is especially telling. When the apartheid government designed the school system for Black South Africans, it deliberately limited their knowledge of the rest of the world. This was an intentional choice to undermine Black education to preserve the stratified social order, and the result is that practically nothing is known of Adolf Hitler. Given the tendency for Black South Africans to pick their western names essentially at random, this particular one, Trevor notes, is unusual but not unheard of. In the explanation, he reveals that he has also known people named “Mussolini.”

When his dance crew is arrested on their way to Soweto, Trevor is yet again forced to acknowledge the privilege he holds over many of his peers. Choice, itself, is a luxury; while he may have his own hardships, he also has the freedom to make choices about where he wants his life to go. For those raised in tougher circumstances, that freedom is conspicuously absent.

These chapters also reveal quite a bit about the economic systems in play during Trevor’s upbringing. When he and Bongani begin “hustling” to supplement their incomes, they are participating in a shadow economy that has evolved to fill a need where the traditional economy has failed. Many people in the townships cannot, for example, buy a dozen eggs at a time. By creating and sustaining an active market outside traditional shopping venues, hustlers present the necessary and welcome opportunity for someone to buy what they need at a reasonable price.


Chapters 13–14 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 17–18 Summary and Analysis