Born a Crime: A Stand-Up Comedy In Writing

I loved this book. Period.

I know I came late to the party as it’s been out for a couple of years but who cares, I’m happy to say I finally joined the boat!

If Trevor was to give this book a different title, it would probably be namesakes with his latest Netflix special, “Son of Patricia”. After all, it is an ode to a mother brave enough to want something and go in to the world to get it in the form of a little mixed-ish boy. It is a libation to a black woman audacious enough to raise a black man without limitations in a country whose existence is based on placing limits to everyone’s personhood. It really is the story of Patricia, a woman stubborn enough to say before us African feminists could conjure up the guts to say so, “my body, my choice”, and then go on to have a living reminder of that chant in the form of Trevor.

Why do you do all this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?” 

Because,” she would say, “even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.”

In the 288 or so pages, Trevor Noah offers us a window into his life growing up in South Africa. It speaks nothing of his meteoric rise. It is not a guidebook to success but instead a sit down between brethren at the table of life, sharing snippets of how one became a man. If there are lessons you choose to take from it, they are merely coincidental or better yet, a task of your own undertaking in this self-help crazed world.  I dare say, this book dares you to just chill. It beckons us to not take life too seriously because life itself is a joke.

The Trevor Noah we now know, is a black man raised by black South African Xhosa women, most predominantly his single-independent-Jesus-loving mother. There are men who come in and out of his life. His white father. His violent stepfather. His smooth grandfather. However, these men are merely but props -temporary fixtures- in his upbringing. I would argue that there are things only children raised by single mothers will understand. Going through this autobiography, you see how Trevor’s life is a manifestation of his mother’s personhood. Here he was, mixed race, in apartheid South Africa. Poor, in capitalist Johannesburg.  And yet, he was his mother’s son.

There is a fierceness that comes with such mothers. A watchfulness  that makes them always check their backs, knowing the world for what it is not what it can be. Such mothers walk the world with open eyes.  They become women quicker than most, no longer with fairytale views of love and family but with an assuredness of  the place of duty in raising a family. They raise their children with a steady gaze. These children with complicated lives and all grow up with the certainty of their mother’s steady love despite the convoluted ways such love sometimes manifests itself as.

When I was twenty-four years old, one day out of the blue my mother said to me, “You need to find your father.”

“Why?” I asked. At that point I hadn’t seen him in over ten years and I didn’t think I’d ever see him again.

“Because he’s a piece of you,” she said, “and if you don’t find him you won’t find yourself.”

“I don’t need him for that,” I said. “I know who I am.”

“It’s not about knowing who you are. It’s about him knowing who you are, and you knowing who he is. Too many men grown up without their fathers, so they spend their lives with a false impression of who their father is and what a father should be. You need to find your father. You need to show him what you’ve become. You need to finish that story.”

Of course reading through Born a Crime, there are moments of laughter. After all the writer is a comedian. There were times I would be in my room tearing up imagining a small boy pooping onto a newspaper in a small cramped up shanty oblivious of the concept of osmosis. But there are also moments of reckoning. Moments of awakening to the bitter humor that is life. Moments such as when a policeman chooses to look the other way when a woman is violated by the father of her children. Moments when you fear a police call is a little too late. Moments when you want to scream “Leave! He will never change!” Only to get a glimpse as to why strong women stay, “He will kill us.” Talk about being stuck between a rock  and a hard place.

All in all, this text offers us a chance to further complicate our lives by forcing us to rethink ideas of race, class and sexuality through a micro history of someone we now consider to be a ‘big person’. What does is it mean to be black, Trevor demands? What ways does systemic poverty and racism cripple our potential as a people to move up the economic ladder, he reflects? Is it always an “Us vs them” or is there space for everyone after all? Trevor offers a small answer to these big questions. He somewhat suggests that sometimes, all it takes is a brazen mother who loves Jesus and her son. After all, that has been the tradition of black women folk from the beginning of time. Loving us all into good health and sometimes wealth.Do yourself a favor and read this book. If you can, I’d suggest the audio version because who wouldn’t want to hear Trevor narrate his comic-ridden tales!

As always,

Love and Light!

Published by

Atieno Otieno

An intersectional learner, unapologetic feminist, radical afro-centrist and holistic wellness enthusiast passionate about decentralizing knowledge and leaving an impactful footprint in this digital world.

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