Born a Crime: Racism through Trevor Noah’s Childhoodn Apartheid South Africa

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime gives readers an inside account far different from any history book of what it was like growing up in South Africa during apartheid. As the title suggests, Noah was born between his white Dutch father and black Xhosa mother, which under the Act of Immorality was illegal and punishable by up to five years of jail time. This act of protest entails him and his strong-willed Mother on a journey that shapes him into the man he is today.

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Written as a tribute to his Mother for his success, Noah furthermore wrote this book with white American readers in mind to enlighten as well as shock them with the intense details of apartheid. From beginning to end, Noah’s hilarious yet heart-rending stories weave together to form a hopeful message promoting change now within our country for those living under similar circumstances today.

A Mother’s Impact

Throughout his writing, Noah reveals how he truly owes everything to his Mother. From the first page, he begins Born a Crime with a shocking story of him being thrown from a bus by his Mom. As the book goes on, she proves to be fiercely independent, and it becomes evident that she never succumbs to the system. I consider Noah’s Mother to be one of the many reasons he was inspired to write Born a Crime, as he explains she raised him to be the same way and gave him the opportunity to think for himself. Noah explained, “When it was time to pick my name, she chose Trevor, a name with no meaning whatsoever in South Africa. It’s just a name. She wanted me to be free to go anywhere, do anything, be anyone.” While still struggling for her own liberation, she made sure to instill values of education, religion, and freedom in Trevor, never wanting him to pay the “black tax,” as she called it. Throughout the book, Noah’s stories and descriptions of his Mother compose an endearing tribute to her for his success.

Addressing Social Issues

While these stories do tend to revolve around his Mother, when looking at them from a larger perspective, they also take aim at a multitude of social issues. Although mostly concerning racial equality, many other themes that most white Americans would not understand are frequently shown in the text, such as diversity and white privilege. Noah provides the framework needed to understand how white privilege systematically affects people of color. By illustrating a broad picture of how white people received unearned benefits simply based on their skin color, many of Noah’s stories reveal how racism is built into societal systems. Although he admits that he never thought of it as racism then, Noah shared his experiences with white privilege stating, “There were so many perks to being ‘white’ in a black family, I can’t lie. I was having a great time.”


  1. Noah, Trevor. (February 12, 2019). Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Paperback).
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Born a Crime: Racism Through Trevor Noah's Childhoodn Apartheid South Africa. (2023, Jun 21). Retrieved from