Born a Crime

by Trevor Noah

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What are the themes in Born a Crime by Trevor Noah?

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Three themes in Born a Crime are racism, sexism, and crime.

Trevor Noah was born in South Africa under apartheid and, as a mixed race child, was directly affected by racism. The title of the book, Born a Crime, speaks to the fact that at the time he was born, it was illegal for Black people and white people in his country to have sexual relations. At times, his parents would leave him by himself on the streets so that the authorities would not put two and two together and realize he was a mixed-race child. He grew up marked by the fact that he was "other" and did not have an easily accepted place in his social order. He writes that:

Racism exists, and you have to pick a side. You can say that you don't pick sides, but eventually life will force you to pick a side.

Noah credits his mother for loving, protecting, and nurturing him but also notes the abuse and sexism she has to face in her society. For example, when Noah's stepfather abuses his mother, the police don't believe her, and she eventually has to leave him rather than risk being killed. Sexism is yet another structural problem, he asserts, that holds people back.

Noah takes a complicated look at crime, trying to place it in context and refusing to treat it without nuance. At a crucial point, for instance, he has a revelation when he steals a camera and looks at the photos on it. He realizes that the camera belonged to a real person, feels empathy, and understands all of a sudden that no crime is victimless. At the same time, because of the oppression Black people in South Africa suffer, he also defends their crime.

The hood made me realize that crime succeeds because crime does the one thing the government doesn’t do: crime cares. Crime is grassroots. Crime looks for the young kids who need support and a lifting hand. Crime offers internship programs and summer jobs and opportunities for advancement. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn't discriminate.

Noah's book encourages us to think about the way social structures can make life almost impossibly difficult for certain groups and is a reminder that all playing fields are not level—race, sex, and poverty exact a price.

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