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Trevor Noah Livestreams Honest Talk About Race

Savanah Seyer, Staff Writer

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On Sunday, Oct. 15, a unique event was held at the Center for Global Citizenship. Hosted by the New York Times, SLU College Democrats, and the SLU Public Relations Student Society of America, a livestream discussion about race and identity was broadcast for students. The event was part of a new Facebook live program called “Get With the Times,” hosted by The New York Times for college students. The program includes talks with notable speakers about important societal issues.

The first talk featured Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Noah joined the series to speak on the topics of race and identity. Noah was born and raised in South Africa during the end of apartheid, an oppressive governmental system based on race. In 2016, he published a book about his life titled “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.” Noah spoke about apartheid in the discussion, explaining how it discriminated not just by skin color, but systematically discriminated by the smallest of differences in shade of skin color, hair, and other physical features.

New York Times

The hosting groups at SLU felt that it was the perfect event to spark dialogue on racial issues. Robert Lasky, SGA senator and executive board member of the College Democrats, spoke about the event.

“We thought that this could give people more of a perspective on the way that racism takes a form and the way it has an identity in this country,” said Lasky. “Trevor Noah has a really great perspective because he came from apartheid. When you start to apply things that happened then to things that are happening in the U.S. now, it’s a good way to understand that even though segregation is ‘legally’ over, it isn’t over.”

When asked about the current U.S. Government, Noah remained optimistic about the future of the United States, saying that the new administration makes it impossible for conversations to be masked, and that President Trump will force people to decide if hate is really the side they want to align themselves with. When the topic shifted to Noah’s thoughts on American racial issues, he admitted that he had come to the country with limited knowledge. Growing up in South Africa, Noah said he had based his opinions about American black culture on entertainment. After moving to the U.S., however, he was shocked by many of the realities of the U.S. He stated that when coming as an African immigrant, many believe that if one simply “behaves,” they will be treated accordingly.

“I realized that’s what black people have tried over and over again,” said Noah. Noah said he began to understand that even in America, racism was “not about what you do but who you are.” “It’s a scary thought to come upon, because you always want to believe that there is something you can do to keep from getting killed by a policeman, or suffering the same ills as your parents,” said Noah.

Because of this limited knowledge, he made some mistakes when he first began doing stand-up in the United States. “I took for granted how that comedy could be used against black people in America,” said Noah. “I wrote all my comedy in black rooms. When you start getting an opportunity to perform in front of mainstream audiences that are predominantly white, you don’t realize that the laugh is changing from recognition to ridicule. You’ve almost given people a key to laughing at, as opposed to laughing with.”

Noah was also asked about how his identity as a South African changed the way people viewed him in the United States. He said that he feels very welcome in the black community in the United States. He said that most people were incredibly warm and welcoming when finding out that he was from Africa. Noah believes part of that acceptance is that he brings a connection to a story that many African Americans feel a part of. He admitted that he had not realized the importance of African Heritage to the black community in the U.S. before he came to the United States. After speaking with many African Americans, he came to understand that many felt robbed of a story of their heritage, saying that he had always taken for granted his knowledge of his family story.

In his closing remarks, Noah reminded students that the most powerful tool in social justice was conversation. Even though conversations about race are uncomfortable, Noah urged students to remember that conversations can move the world forward. “We are seeing each other as we have never seen each other before in America,” said Noah. “We live in the best time ever because we now have the ability to see how bad things really are. I believe that’s a hopeful place to be in.” The talk lasted around an hour and covered a multitude of points on race and identity. The full discussion is available online at getwiththetimes.com.

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Trevor Noah Livestreams Honest Talk About Race