I’m on a roll with the memoirs, which is certainly not my normal fare.
Happily, this one is pretty amazing. I kind of wish I’d been able to get it in audiobook format, as it’s sort of broken down into chunks that would have worked perfectly during my commute.
While I don’t watch the Daily Show regularly, I’ve caught enough snippets on social media to have become a bit of a fan of Trevor Noah, his sense of humor, and his political takes. When his book came up on a list of recommended reading, my interest was immediately peaked.
I think what really engaged me the most was getting a glimpse into the affects of apartheid on someone who actually grew up with the aftermath. As an American who was in high school when apartheid “ended”, it was something that was only vaguely on my mental radar and that I knew nearly nothing about in any real, meaningful way.
When I was in college, there was this really strange gathering a South African acquaintance organized. I can’t remember what she said to get us all together, but I remember the gathering itself leaving me a bit uncomfortable. She shared videos and personal stories about the violence that was being experienced in the wake of political changes in her country, emphasizing how innocent (white) families were being attacked and killed in their own homes. I also don’t remember what the whole purpose was in telling us this, and I couldn’t articulate then why the whole thing felt so uncomfortable to me. Looking back, I realize that it was the one-sidedness of the conversation that bothered me, a conversation that completely ignored any discussion about racism, institutionalized poverty, and slavery.
Since then, I’ve gained a much better understanding of how institutionalized poverty and racism work in America. Reading Noah’s account of his childhood in South Africa is enlightening, but horrific as well. It has left me feeling like no one I know has fully understood the realities of apartheid. It was bad in a vague sort of way because intellectually we know that everyone should be treated equally.
In any case, Noah sheds light on these issues through telling his personal story, never dodging the terrible parts, but also infusing humor and irony.
Here is one excerpt that particularly stood out to me:
“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.”
As someone who received very little education about colonialism and it’s long-lasting, continuing effects on native populations, I appreciate these unflinching accounts of the realities still faced by those of my own generation.
Another excerpt: “The name Hitler does not offend a black South African because Hitler is not the worst thing a black South African can imagine…if a black South African 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.
“I often meet people in the West who insist that the Holocaust was the worst atrocity in human history, without question. Yes, it was horrific. But I often wonder, with African atrocities like in the Congo, how horrific were they?”