Our first vacation last year was ten days at Secrets Cap Cana, a beautiful resort in Punta Cana. This was January 2021, months before we could get our first shot. The pandemic was raging across the globe. We were advised at check-in that the guests did not need to wear masks anywhere on the property. “We wear masks, not you.” Our health was valued. The employees? Not so much. This was not a race issue. All of the guests, black or white, roamed the resort without masks. And so did we, except when we interacted with the staff. Walking into restaurants, talking with a concierge, or at the front desk, we always wore a mask. We really weren’t worried that we were going to give any anyone COVID. It was more a matter of respect.
We spend so much energy dividing ourselves into groups – race, color, religious, class, etc… Much of this is designed to make us feel that our team is superior to another. And if the wrong people get into power, that grasping for superiority can be codified into laws with horrible consequences. The memories of the Holocaust, though almost 70 years ago, are still fresh. U.S. slavery impacts our politics daily, and the lives of the decedents of the former slaves on a more personal level in ways the rest of us cannot comprehend. And that brings me to this year’s beach book, “Born A Crime” by Trevor Noah.
Trevor Noah, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, is a gifted storyteller. His book tells his story, his childhood in South Africa. It is both shocking and, at times, hilarious. Since his father is white and his mother black, he was, literally, born a crime. It was illegal for the races to mix. How serious a crime? It was dangerous for young Trevor to been seen with his father in public. Both of them could suffer serious repercussions.
The first step in reading Born A Crime was to accept that a government could create and administer such a horrific system as Apartheid in our modern world. Worse, you have to understand that these race based laws were instituted AFTER World War II. Young Trevor’s exploits were certainly interesting, but it was the environment in which he lived that made his and his mother’s adventures both possible and necessary. And yes, he did get pushed out of a moving vehicle. His mom jumped.
I had difficulty making sense of the inhumanity of the South African regime. Luckily, I know some people who emigrated to Greater Cleveland from South Africa. I asked two of them, separately over a couple of lunches, about this book. Both had read Born A Crime and had found its descriptions accurate and the specific stories plausible. As one friend noted, “He didn’t Hollywood the story. It is not exaggerated.” This, of course, led to me asking what each of them knew and when did they know it. Both explained how the government controlled their access to news and information, this was before the internet, and that they lived in a bubble. One of my friends then explained why he and his family left South Africa. He said that once he understood what was really going on, he had to leave. He didn’t want to raise his children in that system.
It is funny because I think that I grew up in a similar bubble. There were huge gaps in my education. And if certain politicians have their way, entire states will enforce limitations on what can and cannot be taught to our children about issues of race, religion, and discrimination in our schools. There will not be a gap. It will be a chasm.
So I urge you to read Born A Crime. Read it to be entertained. But also, read this book to become part of the team that makes certain that this book can’t be written sometime in the future about life in the United States.
Picture – It’s Not A Crime To Enjoy This, Yet – David L Cunix