Born a Crime

by

Trevor Noah

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The white supremacist legal system in place under the Afrikaner government from 1948 until 1990 that codified racial segregation and the political and economic disenfranchisements of nonwhites. All South Africans were classified as white, colored, Indian, or black. Each group was assigned to live in distinctive areas and use distinctive facilities, with blacks forcibly relocated to crowded slums (townships) or depleted rural areas (homelands) and the majority of land and resources reserved in practice for the small white majority. It was also illegal for these groups to intermarry, which is why Trevor Noah was “born a crime.” The author describes the process of apartheid as slavery, segregation, and displacement all at the same time.

Apartheid Quotes in Born a Crime

The Born a Crime quotes below are all either spoken by Apartheid or refer to Apartheid. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of Born a Crime published in 2016.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.

Related Characters: Trevor Noah (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

The triumph of democracy over apartheid is sometimes called the Bloodless Revolution. It is called that because very little white blood was spilled. Black blood ran in the streets.

As the apartheid regime fell, we knew that the black man was now going to rule. The question was, which black man?

Related Characters: Trevor Noah (speaker)
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

In any society built on institutionalized racism, race-mixing doesn't merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent. Race-mixing proves that races can mix—and in a lot of cases, want to mix. Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race-mixing becomes a crime worse than treason.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

As a kid I understood that people were different colors, but in my head white and black and brown were like types of chocolate. Dad was the white chocolate, mom was the dark chocolate, and I was the milk chocolate. But we were all just chocolate. I didn't know any of it had anything to do with “race.” I didn't know what race was. My mother never referred to my dad as white or to me as mixed. So when the other kids in Soweto called me “white,” even though I was light brown, I just thought they had their colors mixed up, like they hadn't learned them properly. “Ah, yes, my friend. You've confused aqua with turquoise. I can see how you made that mistake. You're not the first.”

Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

I was eleven years old, and it was like I was seeing my country for the first time. In the townships you don't see segregation, because everyone is black. In the white world, any time my mother took me to a white church, we were the only black people there, and my mom didn't separate herself from anyone. She didn't care. She'd go right up and sit with the white people. And at Maryvale, the kids were mixed up and hanging out together. Before that day, I had never seen people being together and yet not together, occupying the same space yet choosing not to associate with each other in any way. In an instant I could see, I could feel, how the boundaries were drawn. Groups moved in color patterns across the yard, up the stairs, down the hall. It was insane. I looked over at the white kids I'd met that morning. Ten minutes earlier I'd thought I was at a school where they were a majority. Now I realized how few of them there actually were compared to everyone else.

Related Characters: Trevor Noah (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

So many black families spend all of their time trying to fix the problems of the past. That is the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation. My mother calls it “the black tax.” Because the generations who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero. Working for the family in Soweto, my mom had no more freedom than she'd had in Transkei, so she ran away. She ran all the way down to the train station and jumped on a train and disappeared into the city, determined to sleep in public restrooms and rely on the kindness of prostitutes until she could make her own way in the world.

Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Colored people had it rough. Imagine: You've been brainwashed into believing that your blood is tainted. You've spent all your time assimilating and aspiring to whiteness. Then, just as you think you're closing in on the finish line, some fucking guy named Nelson Mandela comes along and flips the country on its head. Now the finish line is back where the starting line was, and the benchmark is black. Black is in charge. Black is beautiful. Black is powerful. For centuries colored people were told: Blacks are monkeys. Don't swing from the trees like them. Learn to walk upright like the white man. Then all of a sudden it's Planet of the Apes, and the monkeys have taken over.

Related Characters: Trevor Noah (speaker)
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

Life was good, and none of it would have happened without Daniel. Without him, I would never have mastered the world of music piracy and lived a life of endless McDonald's. What he did, on a small scale, showed me how important it is to empower the dispossessed and the disenfranchised in the wake of oppression. Daniel was white. His family had access to education, resources, computers. For generations, while his people were preparing to go to university, my people were crowded into thatched huts singing, “Two times two is four. Three times two is six. La la la ta la.” My family had been denied the things his family had taken for granted. I had a natural talent for selling to people, but without knowledge and resources, where was that going to get me? People always lecture the poor: “Take responsibility for yourself! Make something of yourself!” But with what raw materials are the poor to make something of themselves?

Related Characters: Trevor Noah (speaker)
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

There is also this to consider: The name Hitler does not offend a black South African because Hitler is not the worst thing a black South African can imagine. Every country thinks their history is the most important, and that's especially true in the West. But if black South Africans could go back in time and kill one Person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler. If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium's King Leopold would come way before Hitler. If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person, it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson.

Related Characters: Trevor Noah (speaker), Sizwe, Hitler
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

In society, we do horrible things to one another because we don't see the person it affects. We don't see their face. We don't see them as people. Which was the whole reason the hood was built in the first place, to keep the victims of apartheid out of sight and out of mind. Because if white people ever saw black people as human, they would see that slavery is unconscionable. We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others, because we don't live with them. It would be a whole lot harder for an investment banker to rip off people with subprime mortgages if he actually had to live with the people he was ripping off. If we could see one another's pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.

Related Characters: Trevor Noah (speaker)
Page Number: 221-222
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Born a Crime LitChart as a printable PDF.
Born a Crime PDF

Apartheid Term Timeline in Born a Crime

The timeline below shows where the term Apartheid appears in Born a Crime. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
In a prefatory note, Noah explains that apartheid is really “apart hate”: it exploits the linguistic and tribal differences among South Africa’s overwhelming... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...Noah is five. Being so young, Noah scarcely understands what is going on, or what apartheid is and why they are happy for it to be over. But he does witness... (full context)
Chapter 2
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
In his historical preface, Noah explains that “apartheid was perfect racism,” a product of centuries of fraught history. First, in the 17th century,... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
...is a Swiss/German man. Race-mixing is “one of the worst crimes you could commit” during apartheid; it threatens the system so deeply because it challenges its underlying logic. But, of course,... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...usually hold, so she learns to type and becomes a secretary, a job that the apartheid government begins letting blacks take as a response to international pressure over its human rights... (full context)
Chapter 3
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...merely estranged from his father because of race, other children’s fathers are either imprisoned, fighting apartheid from abroad, or working elsewhere in the country. Women keep the community running and replace... (full context)
Chapter 4
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
...characters with American accents “felt like foreigners.” He notes that language carries cultural identity and apartheid used this fact to separate different groups by only letting schools use children’s home language.... (full context)
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
Near the end of apartheid, private South African schools open their doors to “children of all colors,” and Patricia manages... (full context)
Chapter 5
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...missionaries provide the only education available to black South Africans before the beginning of the apartheid government, and “nearly every major black leader of the anti-apartheid movement” gets this kind of... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
Apartheid ends gradually, with various laws coming off the books or otherwise losing their force. A... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...same for her. And, most astonishingly, she does this all despite never having known that apartheid was nearing its end. She refuses to bend to “the logic of apartheid” and wants... (full context)
Chapter 6
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
In the preface to the chapter, Trevor Noah explains that apartheid is full of “fatal flaws,” mainly its illogic: for instance, Chinese people are classified as... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...the school. Clearly, “Catholic school is not the place to be creative and independent”; like apartheid, it is based on a bunch of illogical rules. Patricia broke apartheid’s rules and Trevor... (full context)
Chapter 8
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
...privacy. He also “hates racism and homogeneity more than anything”—he breaks all the rules of apartheid and opens one of Johannesburg’s “first integrated restaurants,” which is incredibly successful because people are... (full context)
Chapter 9
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
The apartheid government makes colored people “almost-whites” in order to ensure they align with the existing system... (full context)
Chapter 11
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
...Trevor goes to a “Model C school”—part public, part private, and “a near-perfect microcosm of post-apartheid South Africa,” with students of all race and classes “as integrated as they could be... (full context)
Chapter 15
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
...learned some facts about World War II, but nothing about Hitler’s racist policies (on which apartheid was largely modeled). People think in terms of their own history, and “Hitler is not... (full context)
Chapter 16
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
...was originally a white man’s farm. But this farmer sold his land to blacks before apartheid, when blacks were barred from owning property, and the area gradually filled with squatters before... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...the outside world, gotten educated, but never acquired the resources to leave their neighborhoods. After apartheid, unemployment skyrocketed because a system of slavery gets replaced with a minimum wage. This hits... (full context)