After a year on Comedy Central's “The Daily Show,” most are familiar with comic-host Trevor Noah. What fewer know is that the South African-born star spent his first 18 years navigating extreme poverty, hunger, racism, domestic violence and even a stint in prison.
Noah's new memoir “Born a Crime” details his early years in South Africa, where he lived with his powerful mother, who he says gave him the tools for freedom before there was even a notion that freedom was a possibility.
Noah (@Trevornoah) joins Here & Now‘s Robin Young to talk about the book, and his childhood in South Africa.
Book Excerpt: ‘Born A Crime’
By Trevor Noah
Excerpted from BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah. Copyright © 2016 by Trevor Noah. Excerpted by permission of Random House, A Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved.
On apartheid-era South Africa’s racial designations
“Basically in South Africa, the apartheid laws were very specific in the separation of races, and even amongst black people, you would be designated a certain tribal group that you were forced to live with. And so now you have to make rules about what constitutes black and white, and ‘colored’ was a strange decision that the government came up with where they realized this population was growing, which meant people were clearly breaking these laws — did you add them to the majority you were trying to oppress? Or did you designate an entirely different race? And that’s what the government did. And for all intents and purposes, colored people have become a culture unto themselves in South Africa.”
On how he was classified by the South African government
“I grew up as black, you know? The country, or the government itself, would have classified me as colored, because everyone was classified. The government would have called me colored, I would’ve been deemed colored on my birth certificate, were it not for the fact that my mother lied about who my father was and where I was from. I grew up in a country where there were white people who would be demoted by the government based on the fact that their whiteness had changed, whether people’s hair become too curly or their skin became too tanned — it was an insane system. And I grew up as a black child… I knew no other existence.”
On how his mother influenced him
“My mother was an amazing woman, someone who did not live an easy life at all. She experienced the lowest trenches of poverty, and she worked very hard to raise herself up out of that place, through a combination of hard work, determination and luck, or she would call it ‘blessings.’ She learned to read and write at a mission school, my mother decided to go into jobs and to get training that really no person could use, because of the jobs that black people weren’t allowed into. And yet when the country changed, all of a sudden there was a skills shortage, and my mother was able to take advantage of that.
“She was a person who constantly believed in existing beyond the threshold of where people told her she belonged… My mom was very harsh on me, and she always used to say, she’d say, ‘I would rather that you hate me, I would rather be the person who disciplines you, because I discipline you with love. The police out there are not gonna be your friend.’ And that was a motto that many South African mothers have, many black mothers have.”
On how the book’s stories mix danger, pain and laughter
“That’s life, isn’t it? I feel like that’s exactly what life is. We have moments of pain, we have moments where we’re afraid, but laughter is always the thing that can bring us back to the place we wish we were always in. It is a moment of solace.”