The events described in Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime take place roughly between 1984 and 2009. However, the book also presents some events that took place before that.
Trevor Noah was born in 1984 in South Africa during apartheid, a political system of segregation and discrimination against the non-white population. The influence of apartheid is felt throughout the story. First, the book begins with an extract from the Immorality Act of 1927, which forbids and punishes intimate relationships between whites and people of color. Trevor often talks about the “insane lengths” (Chapter 2, p. 28) that authorities went to enforce laws of segregation: “There were whole police squads whose only job was to go around peeking through windows—clearly an assignment for only the finest law enforcement officers. And if an interracial couple got caught, God help them” (Chapter 2, p. 28).
Trevor also talks about the time before his birth, when black South Africans were forbidden to live in bigger cities like Johannesburg. When he talks about his mother’s hiding in the city, Trevor accentuates people’s lack of trust in one another: “That’s how a police state works—everyone thinks everyone else is the police” (Chapter 2, p. 31).
After Trevor’s birth, apartheid laws targeted him as well because he had a black mother and a white father and was thus “born a crime” (Chapter 2, p. 32). For example, Trevor recalls the fear that the police would see a mixed-race child with a black mother and arrest her: “Children could be taken. Children were taken. The wrong color kid in the wrong color area, and the government could come in, strip your parents of custody, haul you off to an orphanage” (Chapter 2, p. 35). Trevor explains that this is the consequence of a racial classification system, which labeled and categorized people to keep them separated.
Trevor also recalls the fall of apartheid, which he associates with extreme violence:
What I do remember, what I will never forget, is the violence that followed. 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. (Chapter 1, p. 18)
Trevor mainly talks about the conflict between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress, which was, in fact, “a proxy war between Zulu and Xhosa” (Chapter 1, p. 19). Trevor remembers seeing riots and “blockades made of flaming tires” (Chapter 1, p. 19) in the streets, as well as “charred bodies on the side of the road” (Chapter 1, p. 19), visible in plain daylight.
The book’s physical setting alternates between the different neighborhoods in which Trevor lives. First, he and Patricia live in a “tiny flat” (Chapter 5, p. 75) in Johannesburg, after which they move to Eden Park, a colored neighborhood. After Patricia sells the house in Eden Park to invest in Abel’s workshop, the family moves into the workshop’s garage. Then, Abel’s business fails, and the family moves to Highlands North, a subu...