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Born a Crime is Worth the Time

I’ve been working on the idea of self-care this year. I think, as an activist or so-called activist, it’s easy to spiral down into a vortex of pessimism or wade into non-stop existential crises. One of things that I decided to do this year was to actually read fiction. I’m aiming for two books written by authors of color per month. I’m just trying to balance what I’m inputting into my brain because these anti-racists text are rough on my spirit, ya’ll.

I stumbled onto Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. Even though it wasn’t a fiction book, I went in anyway and found myself realizing that I just had to write about it. For one, I have so much in common with Noah and could really relate to many of his experiences especially that of deciding to become a chameleon. He says, “My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color.” While I don’t necessarily think it truly works, I identified with the feeling the need to do so.

This book is a brilliant look at race and racism through a lens of someone who wasn’t raised in the United States, but was raised in a place that co-opted our system of segregation and racism and made it into a legal way of structuring a society.

I found myself learning so much about apartheid that I did not know and realized how insanely recently it ended. So much of what he states about how apartheid works was, to me, poignant explanations of the machinations of America’s systemic racism such as when he says, “The only way to make apartheid work, therefore, was to cripple the black mind.” The South African government, like ours, recognized that “a knowledgeable man is a free man, or at least a man who longs for freedom” which brought me back to Carla Shalaby’s assertions on literacy as freedom and the power it could give students.

Additionally, when he discusses something his mother called “the black tax” which is where “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.” This resonated with me in considering the wealth gap in the US and the direction in which black wealth flows.

Even in the concept of making the “status” of white a legal definition, I was reminded of the US. Under apartheid a white person was “one who in appearance is obviously a white person who is generally not accepted as a coloured person; or is generally accepted as a white person and is not in appearance obviously a white person” which reminded me of the variety of legal ways in which the US came to be more explicitly bold and racist in defining who is white through court decisions like Thind Vs Us.

And finally, the way that he picks at the bootstraps myth through analyzing what’s wrong with the saying “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Noah asks us to consider how that’s even possible if you don’t give the man a fishing rod.

I could go on and on, but just believe me, this book is worth a read.

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