Get the key ideas from

Bedtime Biography: Born a Crime

Stories from a South African Childhood

By Trevor Noah
9-minute read
Audio available
Bedtime Biography: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Narrated by Valeri Ross
Music by Federico Coderoni 

Born a Crime (2016) is about comedian and television host Trevor Noah's childhood and adolescence in apartheid-era and post-apartheid South Africa. A child of mixed heritage, Born a Crime details the challenges Noah faced and the social paradoxes that existed as he was growing up.

  • Trevor Noah fans
  • Those interested in life during and after apartheid in South Africa
  • Anyone after an inspiring personal story

Trevor Noah is a world-renowned South African comedian, as well as a radio and television host. He has been hosting the Daily Show since September 2015, and has won numerous prizes, most recently the 2017 MTV Movie & TV Awards for Best Host.

Go Premium and get the best of Blinkist

Upgrade to Premium now and get unlimited access to the Blinkist library. Read or listen to key insights from the world’s best nonfiction.

Upgrade to Premium

What is Blinkist?

The Blinkist app gives you the key ideas from a bestselling nonfiction book in just 15 minutes. Available in bitesize text and audio, the app makes it easier than ever to find time to read.

Discover
4,000+ top
nonfiction titles

Get unlimited access to the most important ideas in business, investing, marketing, psychology, politics, and more. Stay ahead of the curve with recommended reading lists curated by experts.

Join Blinkist to get the key ideas from
Get the key ideas from
Get the key ideas from

Bedtime Biography: Born a Crime

Stories from a South African Childhood

By Trevor Noah
  • Read in 9 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
Bedtime Biography: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Synopsis

Narrated by Valeri Ross
Music by Federico Coderoni 

Born a Crime (2016) is about comedian and television host Trevor Noah's childhood and adolescence in apartheid-era and post-apartheid South Africa. A child of mixed heritage, Born a Crime details the challenges Noah faced and the social paradoxes that existed as he was growing up.

Key idea 1 of 6

Chapter 1

Bedtime Biographies are best when listened to.  Check out the audio version to get the full experience!

 

You’ve almost certainly heard of the world-famous South African comedian Trevor Noah. Maybe you know him as host of The Daily Show. Or perhaps you’ve seen some of his stand-up comedy, where he’s known for his uncanny impressions, his impressive knack for languages, and the ability to make painful anecdotes hilarious. 

What you might not know is that he had quite the extraordinary upbringing in South Africa – and that he overcame great odds to achieve his fame. At the center of his story is the love and strength he received from his unforgettable mother.

Settle in, and get cozy. This one’s a heart-warmer!

 

We begin our story not too long ago, but in a world governed by very different rules.

Trevor Noah was born in Johannesburg in 1984. At that time, South Africa was still under apartheid – a rigid and convoluted system of racial oppression and segregation.

Trevor’s mother, Patricia, was Black – a Xhosa woman from Soweto. His father, Robert, was a white, Swiss-German man. Under apartheid law, interracial affairs were illegal, and so Trevor was quite literally born a crime.

It wasn’t like having an interracial affair under apartheid was a minor misdeed, either. No, the government did anything but turn a blind eye to such crimes. Entire police squads were dedicated to the sole purpose of peering into windows and arresting or beating any interracial couples they found. The official penalty was five years in prison.

When you think about it, such a law was fundamental to a racist system like apartheid. After all, if sexual relations between Black and white people did occur, they would compromise the racist idea that it was unnatural for races to want to mix. Simply put, it would undermine institutionalized racism and was therefore considered one of the worst crimes you could commit under apartheid. 

But this didn’t prevent a headstrong woman like Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah from creating the life she wanted.

 

Patricia and Robert met while living down the hall from each other in an apartment complex in Johannesburg. She was 24 and he was 46, and they both frequented Johannesburg’s underground nightlife for integrated crowds. 

It was a lively and growing scene, where merely dancing with a person of another race was an act of political resistance. Sometimes the events would be shut down by the police; sometimes they wouldn't. Attendees could never be sure whether they were going to spend the night on the dance floor or in a jail cell. It was always a gamble.

 

Robert had immigrated to South Africa in the late 1970s. He was quiet and withdrawn, and he never understood the country’s racism; in fact, he later opened one of the first mixed-race restaurants in Johannesburg.

In contrast, Patricia was ambitious, fiery, and driven. She'd grown up poor. When she was still a girl, her father had sent her away to live with her aunt in the Transkei, the apartheid-designated “homeland” of the Xhosa people. He didn’t want her. In the Transkei, she lived in a single hut with 14 other undesired relatives.

Despite these setbacks, she was determined to succeed. She studied English, which was widely regarded as the language of upward mobility. As soon as she could, she got a job at a local sewing factory. It was tough; she barely earned enough to eat. So she decided to take typing classes to get ahead. Eventually, she made enough money to move back to her family’s home in Soweto.

Soweto was a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg that had been earmarked by the government for black people only. It was built by the apartheid regime as a managed ghetto; its two entry roads could easily be blockaded, making escape impossible. If the regime ever deemed it necessary, the population could be corralled and bombed from the air. Trevor later realized that if the township was a target, his family’s home was essentially the bull’s-eye.

When she was 22, Patricia got hired as a corporate secretary in Johannesburg. Until the early 1980s, all white-collar jobs were, by law, reserved for white people. However, international opposition to apartheid was putting increased pressure on the government to abolish such laws. And so, to appease its critics, the government initiated some minor reforms. One such reform was allowing Black people to work low-level office jobs.

Though she was pleased to have the job, Patricia was tired of commuting to Johannesburg from Soweto. She was sick of living with her family, with whom she had a complicated relationship. She decided to move into the city of Johannesburg itself.

The only problem? It was illegal for Black people to live anywhere in Johannesburg except Soweto.

 

Patricia wasn’t the type of person to be troubled by arbitrary laws. First, she hid and slept in public restrooms. Several times, she was caught without a "passbook" – identity documents that all Black South Africans over the age of 16 were required to carry in white areas. The fine was 50 rand, or nearly half her month’s salary.

By befriending local prostitutes, she learned her way around Johannesburg. They taught her to smoothly slip past the police by wearing a cleaner’s uniform, and how to secure a secret flat in town. It was in this apartment complex where she met Robert, who lived down the hall. She enjoyed his company and felt comfortable with him. They went out dancing together and would stay up all night talking. 

Even though they were just friends and not in a romantic relationship, Patricia decided to have a child with Robert. Later in life, she told Trevor that she’d wanted a child all to herself. She wanted to live life on her own terms. The child would be someone to love – and someone who would love her unconditionally in return, without the baggage of a husband. 

Upgrade to continue Read or listen now

Key ideas in this title

Upgrade to continue Read or listen now

No time to
read?

Pssst. Sign up to your secret to success: key ideas from top nonfiction in just 15 minutes.
Created with Sketch.