Until Trevor Noah was 10 years old, his existence was against the law. In his home country of South Africa, racial and ethnic groups were legally segregated by apartheid, a set of laws enforced by the country's white National Party. Because Noah's mother was black and his father was white, they risked five years of imprisonment for having him.
Noah's mixed race came with a confusing swirl of struggle and privilege, and his efforts to craft an identity in a world that actively fought against him is at the heart of his intimate new memoir, Born a Crime. Through every trying moment, Noah learned how to keep making opportunities for himself, the key factor in his comedic success.
"I remember the thing that caused the trauma, but I don't hold on to the trauma." —Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah's memoir teaches us that hope is a muscle—the more you use it, especially in tough times, the stronger it gets.
Tip No. 1: Use Painful Memories to Push Limits
"I remember the thing that caused the trauma, but I don't hold on to the trauma. I never let the memory of something painful prevent me from trying something new. If you think too much about the ass-kicking your mom gave you, or the ass-kicking that life gave you, you'll stop pushing the boundaries and breaking the rules."
Tip No. 2: Staying in Your Country *Is* a Political Act
"Where most children are proof of their parents' love, I was the proof of their criminality."
Noah wasn't aware that other mixed-race kids even existed until he began meeting them in his post-apartheid adult life; many families had moved to Europe during apartheid to avoid legal action. Upset that his parents could have prevented so much personal hardship, he asked his mother why they never relocated to Switzerland like other families. Her response? "Because I am not Swiss. This is my country. Why would I leave?"
Tip No. 3: Find People Who Share Your Experiences
Like the rest of the country, South Africa's schools were segregated by race, and the level of education received relied entirely on ethnicity. Perceived as white, Noah was placed in the "best" class alongside the rest of the white children. But after interacting with the black children during recess, Noah came to realize he related to and identified with them more. He opted out of the higher-quality education so he could surround himself with those who made him feel accepted: "I got along with the white kids, but I didn't belong with the white kids. The black kids embraced me. With the black kids, I wasn't constantly trying to be. With the black kids, I just was."
Tip No. 4: Explore Places You Thought Were Off-Limits
"Apartheid, for all its power, had fatal flaws baked in, starting with the fact that it never made any sense."
When Noah was a child, his mother, despite their poverty, took him on outings to ice rinks, drive-in theaters, and wealthier suburbs—all places mostly visited by white people. Although these trips were, in part, to keep him entertained, his mother also wanted him to believe that the world had no limitations for him.
Noah's neighbors often questioned his mother's parenting, to which she merely responded, "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."