Trevor Noah The "Chameleon"

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2005 |

Pages: 4|

11 min read

Published: Mar 3, 2020

Words: 2005|Pages: 4|11 min read

Published: Mar 3, 2020

Born a Crime is an autobiography by stand-up comedian Trevor Noah. In his work, Noah talks about his experience growing up in South Africa during the time of apartheid. During this time, racial discrimination was extreme. Apartheid was a policy during the 1900s in South Africa that segregated the blacks and the whites. It was illegal for the two races to be seen together, let alone have a relationship. This is where the title of Noah’s autobiography becomes relevant. Trevor is a mixed child, born illegally as a result of his rebellious parents. His father is white, and his mother is black. Being not fully black, Noah talks about how racial discrimination affected him growing up, and how language is a powerful tool that can be used to overcome racial discrimination. In the chapter “Chameleon”, Trevor Noah effectively argues this point by appealing to pathos through the use of humor. As a child, Noah did not understand the concept of racism. In the chapter “Chameleon,” Noah made an analogy of his family to chocolate. His father was white chocolate, his mother was dark chocolate and he was the milk chocolate (Noah 54). Noah also states, “But we were all just chocolate. I didn’t know any of it had anything to do with ‘race’” (Noah 54). Noah humorously describes his family by comparing skin color to food. This analogy also shows that Noah’s perception of race as a child was something simple and harmless. As a mixed child, Noah had benefited in many ways while growing up in a black family. Being in an environment of majority “dark chocolates”, Noah was regarded as “white” due to his lighter skin tone.

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In South Africa, there is a preference for lighter skin. Being lighter meant you were well off, educated and greater than other people in every aspect. And so, being born to have lighter skin, Noah was treated like he was of higher status than everyone else, even in his own household. For example, Noah tells about how his grandfather would insist on being his chauffeur. He states: He called me “Mastah. ” In the car, he insisted on driving me as if he were my chauffeur. “Mastah must always sit in the backseat. ” I never challenged him on it. What was I going to say? “I believe your perception of race is flawed, Grandfather. ” No. I was five. I sat in the back. (Noah 52) Seeing how a grandfather is serving a five-year-old child and referring to the child as a “mastah” makes it clear that light skin equated to superiority in South Africa. At the same time, this is also humorous because it is an odd and unusual situation. Noah is playing the role of a white oppressor and enjoying the white benefits. Noah also tells about how he was never punished despite being the naughtiest one out of his cousins. He states: Misbehavior that my cousins would have been punished for, I was given a warning and let off. And I was way naughtier than either of my cousins. It wasn’t even close. If something got broken or if someone was stealing granny’s cookies, it was me. I was trouble. (Noah 52) Noah is being humorous by dissing himself, stating how he knew that he had always been the most disobedient. He also makes an analogy between his family to the American justice system. He states, “My own family basically did what the American justice system does: I was given more lenient treatment than the black kids”(Noah 52). Noah uses a childish event, stealing cookies, as an example to explain how he was naughty but yet still given lenient treatment. He also states, “Being beaten didn’t make me feel better. I had a choice. I could champion racial justice in our home, or I could enjoy granny’s cookies. I went with the cookies” (Noah 53). Noah humorously, yet logically explains how it was so easy to just accept all the benefits rather than going against what was thought to be wrong. Noah recalls all these memories and retells them in a humorous way, to depict how he benefited in this society that favored light skinned people. The special treatments that Noah receives at home extended outside of his family too. No matter where he was, Noah becomes the spotlight.

For instance, when he shows up at funerals, he becomes the center of attention. In the text, he states: I’d go to funerals and I’d walk in and the bereaved would look up and see me and they’d stop crying. They’d start whispering. Then they’d wave and say, “Oh!” like they were more shocked by me walking in than by death of their loved ones. (Noah 53)Noah humorously describes how people react upon seeing him. He was so unusual and out of place to the people of his town, that he unintentionally stole the limelight from a dead person. Furthermore, at funeral dinners, he was always invited to eat indoors whether he knew the decreased or not, because “You can’t let the white child stand outside” (Noah 54). Again, Noah is given royalty treatment because of his “white” identity. Despite these perks that Noah experienced, being mixed had its disadvantages. Because he was different from the rest of the people in his township, it was difficult of Noah to fit in. Noah states, “Nearly one million people lived in Soweto. Ninety-nine point nine percent of them were black—and then there was me” (Noah 53). Noah was practically famed for just existing in this society. Noah recalls how his skin tone was so unique that people gave directions using him as a landmark (Noah 53). People whispered when they saw him and other children would try to touch him to see if he was real (Noah 53). Being “white” in this community, Noah was always treated as different, until he learned the way to cross this race barrier, through language. Language is a major part of daily life. It is a way of communication. It is how people express their thoughts and connect with each another. When people do not speak the same language, it is difficult to bond with one another. “A shared language says ‘We’re the same. ’ A language barrier says ‘We’re different’” (Noah 49). Racism is the discrimination towards groups of people who have a different skin color. A language barrier adds on to this race gap. “If you’re racist and you meet someone who doesn’t look like you, the fact that he can’t speak like you reinforces your racist preconceptions” (Noah 49). In South Africa, children only learned their home language. This language barrier between the many groups of people there supported apartheid.

The white people separated themselves from the blacks, because they were taught that black people are inferior to them. Since black people could not speak their language, it makes them seem uneducated and therefore reinforced the idea that black people were below them. Noah however, explains that the same way that language can be used to separate people, it can also be used to bond people. Noah grew up learning many different languages because of his mother. As a child, he watched his mother skillfully use languages to handle situations. One instance was when he and his mother were made victims of a racial stereotype in a shop. The shopkeeper had told his security guard to follow them in Afrikaans. He states, “Follow those blacks in case they steal something…You know how they love to steal” (Noah 55). The shopkeeper had a single story that all black people were shoplifters. Hearing this, Noah’s mother confronted the shopkeeper speaking “…in beautiful, fluent Afrikaans,… ‘Why don’t you follow these blacks so you can help them find what they’re looking for?’”(Noah 55). The moment that she had spoken in a familiar language, she was more respected. Noah’s mother presented herself as an educated, black woman, different from the image that was in the shopkeeper’s mind. The shopkeeper apologized stating, “ ‘Oh, I’m so sorry…I thought you were like the other blacks”(Noah 55). Noah however, noted that the shopkeeper’s apology was still racist. He states, “…he didn’t apologize for being racist; he merely apologized for aiming his racism at us” (Noah 55). This is humorous because the shopkeeper was being absurd and made himself seem like the fool. Nevertheless, Noah’s mother’s use of language helped to break a racial stereotype and to overcome racial discrimination to some extent. Noah learned the importance of language from watching his mother who had set an example for him. There were many instances when Noah used his language skills to help him.

For example, when people questioned where he was from because of his unique skin color, he would reply in the same language with the same accents that he learned (Noah 55). Speaking in the same language gave people the impression that he was the same as them. Noah states, “Maybe I don’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you”(Noah 56). Furthermore, there was a time when a group of Zulu guys tried to mug him because he was “white. ” Noah recalled, “…a group of Zulu guys was walking behind me, closing in on me, and I could hear them talking to one another about how they were going to mug me…. I couldn’t run, so I just spun around real quick and said… ‘Yo, guys, why don’t we just mug someone together? I’m ready. Let’s do it’”(Noah 55). Noah understood them and was able to confronted them speaking back in Zulu. The moment that Noah had spoken in their language, they became friendly with him. Because he spoke in the same language, he was now familiar and seen as the same kind. Furthermore, Noah’s jokingly telling them that he would join them to mug someone eased any racial tension, making them laugh instead. Noah’s ability to speak many languages also helped him in school. The Black kids at his school were fascinated by all the African languages that he could speak. “…it wasn’t common to find a white person or a colored person who spoke African languages” (Noah 58). Noah’s special skill made his peers welcome him. In the text, it states, “One kid said something in Zulu, and I replied in Zulu. Everyone cheered. Another kid said something in Xhosa, and I replied to him in Xhosa.

Everyone cheered” (Noah 58). It was like Noah was doing some magic trick. Although their color of their skin told them that they were different, their shared languages allowed them to bond. Noah states, “With the black kids, I wasn’t constantly trying to be. With the black kids, I just was”(Noah 59). Because of racism, it was hard for Noah to fit in, for he was neither white or black. However, through the use of language he was able to find his crowd. Throughout the chapter, Noah talks about racism through personal anecdotes. He tells about his experiences in a humorous way. Racism is a controversial and serious topic to talk about even till today.

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There is a long history of slavery and discrimination towards black individuals. By using humor in his writing, Noah makes it easier for people to listen to his story of how he dealt with the racial barrier in society. He not only tells his story, but also the stories of people from all around the world that can relate to his experiences. Noah’s appeal to humor was effective in getting his points across to his audience. To his black audience and those who have experience with discrimination, he teaches them about the power of language. Like a chameleon, language had helped Noah to camouflage his differences and overcome racial discrimination. He had stated, “It became a tool that served me my whole life”(Noah 55). To his white audience, he makes them listen to their stories. Listening is better than pretending like discrimination and the long history of condescension towards blacks never existed.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Trevor Noah The “Chameleon”. (2020, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
“Trevor Noah The “Chameleon”.” GradesFixer, 27 Feb. 2020,
Trevor Noah The “Chameleon”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 Apr. 2024].
Trevor Noah The “Chameleon” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Feb 27 [cited 2024 Apr 17]. Available from:
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