Born a Crime

by Trevor Noah

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Born a Crime is an autobiography by Trevor Noah, who is a famous comic. The book is about his childhood growing up in South Africa. At the time, it was not legal for a Black person and a white person to get married or have children together. This is what Noah means when he titles his book Born a Crime. His birth was itself illegal, because his parents were of different races.

Many of the most important quotes from the book are on this theme. For example, one quote is:

My mom did what school didn’t. She taught me how to think.

This demonstrates Noah’s opinion on the public institutions of his country of birth, specifically regarding their racism. One cannot expect a child born into a racist society to have an easy time understanding racial relations unless one gives them an alternate perspective.

Many other quotes elaborate on this. Noah’s mother would show him ice rinks and drive-ins, which other black people called “izinto zbelungu,” or things that are only for white people. The black neighbors would ask Noah’s mother why she showed Noah things that weren’t for him. She would say,

Even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If this is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.

This idea of the need to react against negative social influences recurs throughout the book. A final quote that demonstrates the prevalence of racial divisions in South Africa during and immediately after apartheid is as follows:

You can try to hide from it. You can say, oh I don’t take sides, but at some point, life will force you to pick a side.

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