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Footnotes 2017-2018 > Born A Crime Discussion (Spoilers)

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message 1: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Okay, I think all the readers for the month have finished Born a Crime so now its time for a discussion. This books screams to be discussed. I am going to list a few things that struck me in the book without much depth and hope that opens up a "round table" discussion. This list is by no means exclusive. Add to it. Lets talk about this book.

So the first thing that hit me hard was his mother. Though his mother was not perfect, she learned universal truths and passed those on to Noah without any guidance. Truths about respect, love, racism, fitting in, hard work, self and many others. Most people don't learn these lesson and have the ability to teach them to someone else even with a mentor and guidance. Noah's mother did this without help and guidance. No one taught her these lessons. She learned them, and thanks to Noah, she even taught me some of these lessons.

Helping the disenfranchised. Using his personal life he told this and proved this point wonderfully.

The worst and baddest person in the world is relative to its influence on you and your knowledge of the outside world. (GO HITLER, GO HITLER, GO HITLER)

Apartheid studied, actually studied slavery. They pretty much perfected it. I remember one of Noah's first jokes was about how the US is not leading much of anything in the world. Education, manufacturing, and even racism. The US has nothing on South Africa. The US needs to step up their game to top South Africa. Now I truly get that joke.

Language breaks barriers. I loved this part for some personal reasons not related to the book. Due to language, he fit in and was accepted, to a degree, everywhere.

Relationships. The part where he is "interviewing" his dad. You learn about people by being with them and sometimes even in silence. Not necessarily by questions. This struck me hard.


message 2: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8849 comments Wanted to bring this discussion back into the forefront. Many of us have loved this book, it made our PBT Top Ten for 2017, and like 9 or 10 of us read it this month for Autobiography. I agree with Jason that the book screams to be discussed. And I really hope others chime in.

Naturally, I think I was drawn to some of the same themes as Jason, I imagine we all were, but I am prepared to add one. The first is Trevor's mother. Did I read from one of you that the book was meant to be a tribute and honor to her? She was an incredible character - and since she is a real person I also mean that she was of character The first thing that struck me, was that she wanted to have a child, and she wanted to have one with Trevor's Dad, and she made that happen. Knowing she would be at great disadvantage, and that the child would likely be biracial. She didn't have a plan at the time around this - she just did it, because she wanted to and felt it was right. She didn't counsel Trevor on being biracial. She just loved him, and tried to raise him right. Interestingly, the family did not punish him the way they did his siblings and cousins. He got away with a whole lot, and learned that it was because of his color, or do I mean shade, that he was not held accountable. I thought that was an interesting message, and the author does feel that if he had been held accountable, some aspects of his childhood may have turned out differently. Of course, the themes of identity, who he felt he was, where he belonged (nowhere and in someways everywhere) were thematic throughout the book. But also about accountability. His friend got arrested and with a harsh sentence, for doing what Trevor had been doing for some time. Stealing the chocolates. And they didn't even see him, because they were looking for a perpetrator of a gender they didn't consider him to be. I cannot remember which. But that was stunning. Based on your color or trial aggregate group, whether or not one was mugged would change, whether one could or should be educated, and how a child is punished. That is hard to relate to here, and hard to relate to if you are not a racial minority.

I too was blown away about how one's sense of belonging or affiliation was determined by language. The fact that Trevor learned early on to speak 7 or 8 languages, and to have the perception of when to use each, saved his hide more than once. Language, shared language, was the thing that predicated belonging. One might ask, why didn't everyone learn all the languages? Well, if the class/tribe/group/societal divisions are so great, then no one feels its an option. Only Trevor had that "not belonging anywhere" ability to be able to use language in the way he did - and that was his resilience.

His decision to educate with the blacks, rather than the whites was so interesting, because given his context one could completely understand it. And it was interesting about how the one group he absolutely could not relate to, were the colored, the Afrikaans, whose shade most directly matched his own. He did not want to identify biracial - and that's exactly what he was. So identity is more than one's race or ethnicity. Its about felt belonging. Fascinating.

I took a huge pause there. Not knowing if I should follow this digression and tangent I found myself on. I found myself thinking about when former non-Jews convert to Judaism, sometimes, they have a very distinct physical ethnic heritage. Nowadays, its not completely unusual to see African Americans and Asians in a congregation, but still its also not regular fare. Its interesting and powerful to hear Jews by Choice speak about soulfully feeling part of the community, but does their physical characteristics keep them separate? Certainly, it allows for "passing" in all kinds of social situations, where one's belonging is ascribed to be different than it is. Because Jews are largely white, they are not often considered an ethnicity - and often not considered a minority because even though we/they have experienced oppression and antisemitism, they are largely successful - and successful due to "passing" and have had a share of societal advantages. Our ethnic differences might seem slight to the larger world, but very clear to us. I think that makes me understand the nuance of differences, in groups in South Africa, that one might have lumped together more easily in the US. Our melting pot mentality, often has us peering at each other. Who are you? From what strands of differing lineages, does this interesting face come? My 7.5 year old has a friend in the second grade, who is stunningly beautiful. I didn't know what he was, and the parents faces didn't help. What is he? Well he's 1/4 Japanese, maybe 1/4 native American, there is Italian in there too, and the last quarter, I can't even remember. I'm going with German. I think its harder in certain parts of the America, to relate to just how discriminating one's shade was, and how connected to privilege and economy and respect, and safety and power that was.

Now the thought that Jason didn't bring up, and I almost hesitate to. The part that made me laugh out loud throughout the book, chuckle and smile, was the continual argument that Trevor had with his mother about Jesus. And she lived for her faith. There is no question that Trevor was sassy in articulating his thoughts, but there was no winning that argument. And neither of them could. So I have this curiosity about will versus predestination, and about how sometimes its hard to tell the difference. When something happens, positive or negative, one could say that it was chance, or that the person brought about the event through their actions and choices. One could also easily argue that it was God's (and by God I mean Jesus or any other angels or deities folks happen to ascribe to) plan all along. Certainly, as that argument ran through the book, the end made me tear up. Especially when thank God, his mother survived, and felt it was God/Christ's will and healing that caused that miracle, not the doctors or machines, or surgical interventions. And watching Trevor get her out of the one hospital (the Jesus will provide insurance plan) to another, was sheer love of a son to his mother, that he would move heaven and earth to get her the best care possible. And because of his biracial status, and money and power, he could. When he comments to her about the fact that she was able to heal and recover and that he paid for it entirely, she merely said - Of course it was Jesus. He gave me You! That still makes me smile and tear up. It is in fact an unwinnable argument. But she instilled in him her attachment to her faith and her surety and certainty in God's love for her, (and therefore her kids), and that I think, even with his questioning and sass, one of the pieces of his resilience. That he felt her faith and had some faith, felt her love and protection, even spiritually, and that too played into who he was and became. It was a brilliant portrait of his mother, himself, and that relationship. So well done.

OK Everybody - now its your turn. What struck you, that you'd like us all to consider or explore more?


message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Wonderful comments Amy. I especially love the religious arguments Trevor and his mother had. First they were funny. Second, faith, when used constructively, is a powerful tool. Trevor made some interesting and compelling arguments, but her faith kept her pushing on.


message 4: by Mary (new)

Mary B | 112 comments I read this a long time ago but enjoyed reading your thoughts. Nice to have a refresher.

I also loved his mother. It was such an honest portrayal. He included those moments he resented and moments he was grateful for her. It was a full picture which is rare to find. I think there's this myth that the people we love and our heroes have to be perfect or at least we can't discuss their flaws, but this was a perfect example of how someone's shortcomings can make them more endearing.

You guys touched on it but that touchstone of identity and classification based on situations was so great. I feel like we all do that on one level or another; it's just not as obvious in a culture that's less obviously divided. This was years ago but I had a long discussion with a friend in college about how we've always tried to find the "unpopular" crowd to find our place. She lamented never being "cool" or "popular" and I pointed out this was mostly self-segregation on both of our parts. I was briefly in the "popular" group... for a week at summer camp. They all had foul mouths and mind, and I fit right in! They sought me out because they thought I was funny. And inevitably I didn't like the cliquishness and missed the group I identified with a little more. They talked books!

I'm looking forward to the rest of this discussion!


message 5: by Sushicat (last edited Mar 22, 2018 03:33PM) (new)

Sushicat | 804 comments You guys have already covered most of the ground.

I'm taking away two big themes - one of belonging, what it takes and how very subjective it is. At the end we look out from ourselves towards our environment and look for a place to fit in that feels right with the way we perceive ourselves rather than where others would slot us in. I'm thinking here of his decision to go to a black school because these were the people he had associated with most while growing up. Interesting that while he was accepted through his use of language, which gave him the common ground, he nevertheless was perceived as other through the obvious difference in skin tone, which to him was never really relevant, but gave him privileges he did not expect (re punishment). In the end this also allowed him to step out of the trap the townships are much more easily than the black majority he identified with.

The other theme is in the example his mother set, the values she imbued him with. About choosing your path and pursuing your goal with all you have. About respect for yourself and others.
I loved that she was portrayed as this strong positive example, and yet also how her steadfastness could also be single-mindedness and sticking with a decision long after it was obvious the choice was wrong (like her choice of husband). The same goes for himself, the sass and also how he lays out the bad choices he made and got away with while others had to pay the full price.

I loved the section Go Hitler. In the environment he grew up and the education he got, a lot of what we consider common knowledge was just not there. Lacking this common ground, there was a complete breakdown of communication as the two parties were unable to see why the other would take issue. That as well is part of needing a common language to build intimacy and belonging.


message 6: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Everyone seems to be taken with his mother and rightly so. Sushicat touched on it a bit but the idea that the "worst" person in the world is relative. The idea had never occurred to me. Hitler is the standard. But ti the guy whose whole family was butchered by a serial killer, that killer might be the standard. For there to be areas where they don't even think about WWII and the Holocaust in comparison. 1/3 of US literature is centered around the Holocaust as we have mentioned before. Was this an epiphany to anyone else.


message 7: by Amy (new)

Amy | 8849 comments I was moved by it too. That the worst events and people we cast is completely relative. There have and continued to be massacres all over the world. They are beheading Christians in parts of the world and we barely hear about it. It’s true the Holocaust gets a lot more attention, and from our vantage point, but there is a lot more tragedy and genocide to go around.


message 8: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6543 comments Great discussion.

One of the things that really struck me about this book (and why I think it is so universally enjoyed) is the power of humor to open the mind to the messages. I can imagine a version of this book that could make readers defensive . . .after all, it touches on sensitive subjects . . .everything from racism to single motherhood to child rearing to poverty. Subjects many people have strong opinions about.

What I loved about this book was the way Noah used humor to relate his story in a way that elevated it from the typical "tough childhood" memoir to something so much more memorable, and actually I think a book that will resonate with people for years to come.


message 9: by Anita (last edited Mar 23, 2018 05:24AM) (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6543 comments Jason wrote: ".Language breaks barriers. I loved this part for some personal reasons not related to the book. Due to language, he fit in and was accepted, to a degree, everywhere..."

I think this is a very, very interesting topic. The importance of language and the link to acceptance is an issue that I think Americans struggle with tremendously and an issue that has become sadly politicized. But, for better or worse, the ability to communicate creates a groundwork for bonding . . .and Noah's use of language to remove barriers for himself was fascinating. It definitely makes me feel that I should put in some effort to learn a second language (sadly, I seem to suck at them having taken four years of two different languages and basically can barely say good morning in either one).


message 10: by Mary (new)

Mary B | 112 comments Jason wrote: "1/3 of US literature is centered around the Holocaust as we have mentioned before."

Yes! I tried to explain that chapter to friends who hadn't read the book and it was hilarious and did not translate at all. They were legit offended thinking there were whole nations of Holocaust deniers in the world. I kept trying to explain that they're not denying it, they just don't study it like we do. I think I only made ground when asking how much South African history we learned in school. Brief mention of the Boer War and maybe a passing reference to apartheid and/or Nelson Mandela would be above average.


message 11: by JoLene (new)

JoLene (trvl2mtns) | 1532 comments I might have one of the people that mentioned that I thought the book was an homage to his mother. I think it was in the context of people being disappointed on where he ended the story, and how he didn’t cover moving to England/US and his comedy career. While I am curious about those events, I thought this book still felt complete because I think much of it was focused on his mother and their special relationship.

I also loved the humor in the book. One has to wonder if he developed a sense of humor because of his unique circumstance as a way to cope.


message 12: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Anita, yes the power of humor. That's a wonderful point that I overlooked. I feel he discussed empowering the disenfranchised in a clear, reasonable, and humorous way that, even if you don't agree, you can't get mad at. the humor takes away the appearance of an argument or of being preachy. Instead it becomes a discussion and allows the other side to tolerate an opposing view. Next presidential debate......Stand up comedy style. Haha


message 13: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments Mary, good way to explain that point. It still blow my mind just the tough of Hitler is not the biggest bad guy in the world. He's out biggest bad guy. The Joker is Batman's biggest bad guy but Lex Luther is Superman's. 30 years of perceived truth gone. (Migrane)


message 14: by JoLene (new)

JoLene (trvl2mtns) | 1532 comments Oprah interviewed Trevor Noah for her show Soul Searchers. It popped up on my FB feed today, but I’m not sure how to share it.

In the interview he does talk a bit more about how he got to the Daily show and his experiences on the show. I know many of you were wondering. The video that I watched was about 30 minutes.


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