Born a Crime

by

Trevor Noah

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Born a Crime can help.

Born a Crime: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In his preface, Trevor Noah explains that his family manages to move into a white neighborhood by buying a house from the one family “that Does Not Give a Fuck.” (Every white neighborhood has one.) They end up in Highlands North, a middle-class area where Trevor is literally “the only black kid.” (Most of the residents are Jews, who “don’t flee. They’re done fleeing. They’ve already fled.”) In this new neighborhood, it is difficult to make friends because “everyone lived behind walls,” with the houses closer to “fancy maximum-security prison[s],” surrounded by electric wire. The only friends Trevor can find are the children of domestic workers.
Just as Patricia speculatively and prematurely bought her way into a comfortable suburban colored neighborhood, she manages to move her family into a white neighborhood where black families are not expected to live. While this shows that she continues to seek the best for her family even against social expectations, it also leaves Trevor isolated and confused; he needs an invitation behind a white family’s wall in order to make any friends at all, and he will never get that invitation because he is not white.
Themes
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
Trevor makes one close friend at his new school: Teddy, who is also “naughty as shit” and plays pranks with him. Teddy’s mother works in a white family’s house a 40-minute walk away—and they walk “all over Johannesburg together,” for hours. They start stealing liquor-filled chocolates from the mall, but one day, a cop sees them and brings a dozen others to chase after them. They make it back to Trevor’s neighborhood, where he knows he can squeeze his way through a hole in the fence at the end of a dead-end street and escape. However, Teddy goes the other way. Trevor squeezes through the fence, goes home, and waits for Teddy—who never shows up and does not even come to school the next day.
Although Trevor apparently learns to stop playing with fire, he remains “naughty as shit” and, predictably, gets himself into trouble again. It is telling that a dozen cops chase the two boys for shoplifting, rather than simply ensuring they leave the mall: it suggests that they see Teddy and Trevor as despicable criminals, rather than unruly children, and it is doubtful that they would have received the same treatment if they were white.
Themes
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Teddy’s parents visit Patricia and explain that he has been arrested for shoplifting—Patricia insists Trevor must have been involved, but he denies it and believes he has gotten away with a “solid alibi.” The next day, Trevor gets called to the principal’s office, where the principal, three mall cops, and a teacher are waiting. They explain that Teddy has been expelled and ask if, as Teddy’s best friend, Trevor knows anything about the matter. He denies it—and then the police pull out security camera footage. Trevor is shocked; they play the video back and it clearly shows him, shoplifting with Teddy.
Expulsion is an extreme punishment for shoplifting, and it is likely to significantly affect Teddy’s future, which shows for the first time in the book how the legal system’s bias against blacks contributes to cycles of poverty and violence (the following chapters show this in much more detail). While Teddy covers for Trevor, Patricia does not—as always, she puts honesty and responsibility before convenience or blind loyalty.
Themes
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
Then the teacher asks Trevor if he “know[s] of any white kids that Teddy hangs out with.” Trevor is confused, but soon realizes what’s going on: in the black-and-white footage, Trevor looks white, while Teddy looks black. The adults ask Trevor over and over if he knows who the white accomplice could possibly be—but never see that it is obviously him. They are “so fucked by their own construct of race that they could not see that the white person they were looking for was sitting right in front of them.”
This episode shows Trevor how the rest of the world sees race (which is unsurprisingly different from his more nuanced perspective, given that he learned about race’s fuzziness early on). They are so fixated on the color of the skin on the tape that they neither look past color at Trevor’s actual face nor realize that the black-and-white footage distorts color. In rare fashion, Trevor gets away with crime because he isn’t white.
Themes
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
Get the entire Born a Crime LitChart as a printable PDF.
Born a Crime PDF