Chapter summaries part I


Immorality Act, 1927

Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime opens with an extract from the Immorality Act of 1927, which states that sexual relationships between whites and people of color were forbidden. As punishment, men would risk up to five years in prison, while women would risk up to four years in prison. 

Chapter 1: Run

Part I begins with Trevor’s reflections on the influence of apartheid on the different South African tribes. Even before apartheid, the different tribes were separated and encouraged to turn on each other. Trevor gives the example of the Zulu, who prided themselves on being fighters, and the Xhosa, who considered themselves thinkers. The two tribes hated each other for their different approaches to the relationship with the white rulers – while the Zulu tried to fight them, the Xhosa tried to learn from them and negotiate. The tension between the two tribes increased after apartheid fell. 

Trevor talks about his mother forcing the family to attend three different churches – the mixed one, the black one, and the white one – claiming that she could learn from all of them. One Sunday, the family’s car broke down and Trevor was convinced that the family would skip church. However, his mother decided to wait for minibuses. 

When the minibuses failed to arrive, she decided to hitchhike with a stranger until they saw a minibus. Trevor’s mother decided to climb into the minibus, where she was criticized by the driver for being unaccompanied by her husband and told she was promiscuous. Believing that the angry driver was going to kill them, Trevor’s mother pushed Trevor out of the bus, told him to run, and then followed him holding his stepbrother Andrew. Trevor realized that his mother saved his life.

Chapter 2: Born a Crime

Trevor was born during apartheid to a black woman, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, and a white man of Swiss-German heritage, Robert. Because of the racial classification system, Trevor was labeled as colored. He tells the story of how his mother, a rebellious young woman, left the poor township of Soweto to live and work in Johannesburg. While working in Johannesburg as a black woman was legal, black people risked being arrested for living there, so Trevor’s mother hid with the help of prostitutes. She met Robert, who was twenty-two years older, in her apartment building and decided to have a child. 

Trevor was born light-skinned, which was a crime at the time. Because of this, Robert is not on his birth certificate. Growing up, his mother had to hide him while moving through the city or pretend that she was not his mother, fearing that he would be taken away by the authorities. Trevor recalls that, while spending time with his grandparents and extended family in Soweto, he was not allowe...

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