Born a Crime

Author : Trevor Noah

This book should be compulsory reading in our high schools. Starting out with how Trevor is born illegally to a mixed couple during the apartheid years, Born a Crime takes you along on the improbable journey of a young coloured boy growing up in the township to the bright lights of New York City.

I loved the simple beauty of his childhood views on race. “As a kid, I understood that people were different colours, but in my head white and black and brown were like types of chocolate. Dad was the white chocolate, mom was the dark chocolate, and I was the milk chocolate. But we were all just chocolate. I didn’t know any of it had anything to do with ‘race’. I didn’t know what race was. My mother never referred to my dad as white or to me as mixed. So when the other kids in Soweto called me ‘white’, even though I was light brown, I just thought they had their colours mixed up, like they hadn’t learned them properly.”

The reader learns the ins and outs of growing up in a matriarchal home, and the challenges of dealing with an abusive stepfather. While these are all very real issues for thousands, if not millions of South African children today, Trevor has a way of relating his anecdotes in a matter of fact tone. He is not writing for sympathy. This is simply a story of the way it was.

He highlights issues faced by millions of South African women, who work hard and then have to deal with a spouse whose financial habits threaten to undo the woman’s hard work. The reader is also left with a huge respect for Trevor’s mother, who raises him with a god-fearing fist of iron and also manages to impart practical life lessons. For example, after she marries Trevor’s stepfather, Abel, she realises that his poor financial choices are starting to impact on her.

Once Abel’s debts and his terrible business decisions started impacting my mother’s credit and her ability to support her sons, she wanted out. “I don’t have debts,” she said. “I don’t have bad credit. I’m not doing these things with you.” We were still a family and they were still traditionally married, but she divorced him in order to separate their financial affairs. She also took her name back.

I started out saying the book should be compulsory reading in South African schools for several reasons:

  • It will show privileged children what it means to have grown up in apartheid society and what it means to grow up poor.
  • It is a testimony to perseverance and street smarts – both of which got Trevor to where he is today.
  • It will, hopefully, inspire other children to make something of their lives rather than having a defeatist attitude.
  • It highlights the choices faced by millions of single South African mothers. According to the 2020 Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor Covid-19 Special Report, 41% of women with children consider themselves single moms, and 60% of them receive no financial contribution at all from the fathers of their children.

If you haven’t already read this book, you should put it on your reading list asap.

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