Born a Crime

by Trevor Noah

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Student Question

What was your initial response to the opening passage about the Immorality Act of 1927 in Born a Crime?

Quick answer:

Trevor Noah opens his autobiography Born A Crime with the wording of the 1927 Immorality Act to give the reader a sense of the country he grew up in and the challenges he and his family must have encountered. My initial response to this passage was a mixture of surprise and dismay.

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The Immorality Act of 1927 made it a crime in South Africa for any white people to have sexual intercourse with Black people. By today's standards, this is of course a ridiculous and offensive law. Most people in the world would, it is to be hoped, have no problem with two people of different races having a relationship. It is thus always surprising to see such laws as this in their original form.

It is also always dismaying to see such irrational prejudices enshrined in law. The law is supposed to be impartial, objective and rational, but in instances like this it is clearly not. It is also perhaps dismaying to see the Immorality Act of 1927 at the beginning of Noah's book because it might remind us that we have really not made as much progress as we should have in the almost one hundred years that have elapsed between then and now. Indeed, only this week new voting laws were introduced in the state of Georgia, in the United States of America, which many argue amount simply to racial prejudice enshrined in law.

Trevor Noah is himself the product of an interracial relationship: his father was a white European and his mother is a Black South African. The 1927 Immorality Act printed at the beginning of his book therefore has profound personal significance to him. It also gives his readers an insight into the prejudices and persecution to which he and his parents must have been subjected.

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