Comedian and writer Trevor Noah recently sat down with New York Times reporter John Eligon for a special one-on-one discussion on race and identity in America. The new live series “Get with the Times” kicked off at the Caldron Auditorium on the campus of Northwestern University to a packed house. Nearly 90 campuses were invited to watch the live stream conversation in which the host of the The Daily Show was very candid about his upbringing in South Africa and African-American culture.
Reading an excerpt of his New York Times bestseller “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” he talks about his early school days.
“I started pre-school when I was three, primary school when I was five. In my class, we had all kinds of kids—Black kids, White kids, Indian kids and colored kids. Most of the White kids were pretty well off, every child of color wasn’t but because of scholarships we all sat at the same table. We wore the same blue blazers, the same grey slacks and skirts. We all had the same books, the same teachers—there was no racial separation. Every clique was racially mixed,” he read.
He discussed feeling in between the adversity of being a “colored” man as opposed to the identity of a “Black” man in his native country. Because of his ability to learn and speak several African languages, it allowed him to break the ice. “It wasn’t common to find a White or colored person who spoke African languages. During apartheid White people were taught those languages were beneath them. The fact that I did speak African languages immediately endeared me with the Black kids. They asked, ‘How come you speak these languages? You’re not Black.’ I answered because I’m Black like you.”
On race in America, the comedian says the biggest thing to do is to talk candidly about race. “It’s not easy, but I do know that’s one of the most powerful tools to have. When I say talk about it—I’m speaking to predominately White people, it’s a frightening conversation to have but that conversation is race. That conversation is understanding the very fiber of the country you’re living in. Those conversations need to be had with your friends and family.”
He discussed the influence of American Black culture and the complexities of understanding why there is still anguish among generational disconnection to Black people’s ancestral roots. His topics also ranged from the current presidential administration to empowering the next generation’s stance on being vocal through the power of solid journalism.
Many students quietly listened to the exchange between Northwestern alum, Eligon, and Noah as some heads nodded in agreement and others twitched nervously in their seats. Taking questions from students remotely from other colleges—the first installment of “Get with The Times”– was a successful hour of straight forward dialogue.