Thinking critically about Trevor Noah

Schuyler Rabbin-Birnbaum

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Like everyone else, at the beginning of this year I received my copy of the Book Day selection, “Born A Crime”, by current Comedy Central Daily Show host Trevor Noah. As is my custom before I read a book, I did some background research on the author.

In the past when researching Book Day authors I have found them to be professional and principled. However, I believe that Noah is neither of these. Past tweets from his account reveal blatantly sexist, anti-semitic, and homophobic statements. At Horace Mann, we are taught to be respectful of everyone, but Noah’s tweets are a complete rebuke of this sentiment.

Here are direct quotes of some of Noah’s tweets:

Originally when men proposed they went down on one knee so if the woman said no they were in the perfect uppercut position.

  Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) December 20, 2012

Oh yeah the weekend. People are gonna get drunk & think that I’m sexy! – fat chicks everywhere.

  Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) October 14, 2011

I’m watching Olympic women’s hockey. It’s like lesbian porn. Without the porn.

  Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) July 31, 2012

Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn’t look b4 crossing but I still would hav felt so bad in my german car!

— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) September 18, 2009

  

These tweets propagate and validate sexist, anti-semitic, and homophobic attitudes.

The four listed above are just a sampling of Noah’s bigoted “humor,” and there are many more now-deleted tweets that one can read after a quick internet search. Noah has also used twitter to call out Israel for not being a “peaceful” country, and to slam Jewish women for not “going down easy.”

These tweets first resurfaced in 2015 when Noah was named host of The Daily Show to replace Jon Stewart. At the time he responded to the controversy: “To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian.” I find this response problematic for two reasons. One, Noah never offered a formal apology for his words, and two, he does not seem to understand the gravity of his tweets. These jokes reveal something deeper in Noah beyond just bad jokes; they reveal attitudes that we in a moral society cannot and must not accept.

Noah’s book does have historical and literary merit and tells of his inspiring journey as a mixed race individual growing up in apartheid-controlled South Africa. However, I am not able to separate the book’s author from his earlier tweets. I am unable to think about Trevor Noah’s personal story without also considering  his offensive statements. While Noah has written a riveting, thought-provoking memoir, we cannot simply excuse his past sexist, anti-semitic, and homophobic attitudes.

Trevor Noah should not have been given the honor of being named Horace Mann’s Book Day author. Some students may claim that the content of Noah’s book is the only thing that counts, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Book Day cannot and must not be simply about the contents of a book. When we are celebrating a book, the author, a man who made statements unacceptable by our community’s standards, is just as much a part of that book as the stories in  each chapter.