Memoirs of Mental Health: Trevor Noah

I finished Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah for the first time a few months ago; however, publishing my review felt ill-timed given that George Floyd had just been murdered that week. Having finished the book for the second time today, I’ve come to understand that Noah’s story is very relevant to the times we are living in. So let’s dive in, shall we?

What’s the Book About?

I first became familiar with Trevor Noah because of The Daily Show on Comedy Central. I wanted to read his memoir because we come from the same ethnic background, as he has both an African parent and a Caucasian parent. It was not illegal for me to be born of mixed race in the United States; however, it was illegal for a Black person and a White person to procreate in apartheid South Africa when Noah was born in 1984, hence the book’s title, Born a Crime. As Noah shares about his childhood in South Africa, you’ll find yourself both laughing and gasping in shock.

Mental Health Themes:

There are many mental health themes mentioned in Born a Crime to include domestic violence, toxic masculinity, alcoholism, and even a grandfather with bipolar disorder; however, given the current political climate (and to keep this post brief,) I will focus on the theme of race.

*Disclaimer: Race (a social construct) often impacts mental health and quality of life for minorities. I speak this truth from my own experiences and from my vantage point as a therapist working with a diverse caseload.

I wasn’t taught in school or college about South Africa’s apartheid but from what I gather from Born a Crime, APART-heid was a deliberate segregation of people based on race… Literally the definition of systemic racism. South Africa’s race categories were as follows: White, Colored (mixed race), and Black. White was seen as superior to both Colored and Black while Colored was seen as superior to Black. “Success” was based on colorism and my stomach turns as I write this and try to wrap my mind around it.

Noah’s mother is definitely the star of this story because she couldn’t care less what the authorities said about mixed relations. She, a Black woman, deliberately sought out a White friend (Swiss) to have a child with (no strings attached!). As you read Noah’s story, you’ll learn what an interesting dilemma his very existence was. Here are a few tidbits:

  • It was illegal for his mother or father to be seen with him in public, as a colored/mixed-race child living in a Black or White neighborhood could be taken by the authorities and relocated to a part of town designated for Colored people (a common occurrence.) Noah spent a lot of his childhood in isolation because of this.
    • Noah’s mom would have to have a Colored woman walk with him on outings, while she, a Black woman stayed several paces back to avoid being perceived as his mother.
    • If his father was visiting with him, he would have to walk across the street so that he would not be arrested. On one occasion, Noah shouted “Daddy!” when in public, and his father had to flee the scene to avoid potential legal consequences.

It was wild to witness Noah’s childhood as it differed from my mixed-race experience in the United States; however, I can certainly relate to how his peers tried to force him into one racial box (Black, White, Colored). Colorism (racism that tends to look more favorably on those with lighter shades of brown skin) was another aspect of Noah’s story that resonated with me. It’s truly fascinating, especially given the racial reckoning we’re currently experiencing in the US. We can learn a lot from history and we’re not that far removed, as apartheid didn’t end until 1991 in South Africa!

In-Depth Podcast Discussion

Conclusion:

This book is a must for any reading list! Enough said.

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4 thoughts on “Memoirs of Mental Health: Trevor Noah”

  1. It’s so mind-blowingly bizarre that the apartheid system existed, and did so until very recently.

    1. Agreed! Thanks for reading!

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