Maybe they thought we'd all had a little too much of Donald Trump's racist banter over the past few months. Or perhaps it just seemed all too real now that the guy who talked in broad strokes about banning Muslims and Mexican rapists is about to enter the Oval Office. But it was still strange Sunday night to hear Trevor Noah, the host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, talk for an hour mostly about racism and not address America's racist-in-chief.
During a chat with Bob Weisberg, regional attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Miami, Noah talked lots about growing up in South Africa and his new book, Born a Crime. And he eloquently and intelligently addressed the racial problems there.
"Sure, I have experienced racism in America," Noah told a crowd of about 1,500 people the first night of the Miami Book Fair, "but it hasn't shaken me because I come from a place where we have some of the finest racism in the world."
Born a Crime, Noah's memoir, got its title because the TV host was born to a black mother and a white father in South Africa in 1984, during apartheid, when such unions were illegal. It is subtitled Stories From a South African Childhood.
"The very existence of me was against the law," Noah said. "My parents did a great job of shielding me. Ignorance is truly bliss."
He said he grew up an "indoor kid" who rarely left the house. He recalls his grandmother saying, "They will steal you." Only later did he come to realize "they" were the police, not some imagined bad guys.
Apartheid, he said, was "perfect racism." It had to be because blacks outnumbered whites in South Africa. So the government became skilled at separating people by language and race. "I wonder why racists don't commit to making the world a better place," he said to thunderous applause. "They do these things very well."
Noah grew up sharing a toilet with four other families. The government pushed people so far that it helped its opponents "find each other" and create a movement that would ultimately topple the regime. He said of his black mother: "She was preparing me for a life of freedom long before we knew that freedom would exist."
That was all interesting and important. But where the presentation stopped short was by not addressing the elephant in the White House — that Trump has expressed opinions that trace to the very worst of racist American regimes and even South Africans. So for those of you who sat through the talk and felt cheated, here's what you missed.
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Among his last words, though, was a quote from his Xhosa mother, who could have left South Africa with her Swiss husband but chose to stay. "My mother said, 'I am not going to let somebody chase me out of my country.'" Noah could have said the same thing here and inspired Americans.
Maybe that's the message we should take anyway.