Trevor Noah Explains Why He Prefers Racism in South Africa Versus Racism in America

For Daily Show host Trevor Noah, racism has been an obstacle wherever he goes. However, if racism can ever be called preferable, he said in a way,  it was easier in South Africa than it is in the United States. When he’s not skewering politicians on The Daily Show, the South Africa native gives candid interviews. And, on more than one occasion, he has talked about the stark differences between the United States, and his homeland, which once lived under apartheid. 

Trevor Noah on racism in the US vs. South Africa

Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah | Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Noah just published a young adult version of his memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. The title itself indicates how constricting apartheid was. Yet to hear Noah tell it, racism in America is more difficult to contend with. He elaborated in an interview with WBUR, talking about how he learned of history around the world. 

“I think learning about history gives you some context. It gives you an idea of what the world was like,” he said. “It also gives you an idea of where the world has gone to in comparison to the past. And so for me, if you read stories from South Africa, if you read about apartheid, you come to realize that racism or oppression aren’t unique ideas to America.”

Although apartheid in South Africa was in effect from the late 1940s to the early 1990s, America has a long way to go in dealing with its own racial problems.  In the WBUR interview, he said:

“I think it’s unfortunately part of the fabric of the country. South Africa and America have very similar histories in that fundamentally, the beginnings of the countries as we know them, came from a place and a time when people had certain views about people of a different skin color. And so that has traveled through time and that has translated into laws and policies that have affected black people in America [and] black people in South Africa. So for me, what’s always interesting is seeing what similarities there are, but then also noticing what differences there are.”

Or, as he put it on The Daily Show once: “Whenever I see all the stuff about voter registration and voter ID laws in America that’s one of the few moments that I miss South Africa’s racism. What I like about South Africa’s racism is that it was just straight up. They’re just like, ‘No Blacks..’ Unlike in America where they make you work for your racism.”

Trevor Noah has made similar statements before

Before the Emmys last year, Noah told Tammy Hart that not only do South Africa and the United States share a cultural history of discrimination against minorities, but South Africa actually based apartheid on segregation in the United States. 

However, in some ways, South Africa has now progressed more than the United States. He also told Hart: “In South Africa, black people are the majority, black people got power and democracy is what freed everybody. In America, you are still seeing a world where black people are still fighting to be considered completely equal, whether it be in the eyes of the law or the boardroom. Whether it be in employment.”

How Trevor Noah made ‘The Daily Show’ his own

Fans of The Daily Show despaired when Jon Stewart left the show in 2015, but it’s important to remember that Stewart wasn’t the first host. That was Craig Kilborn, who hosted from 1996 to 1998.

Noah had been a correspondent on The Daily Show, landing that gig after his stand-up comedy routines gained him widespread attention. He came to America in 2011, becoming the first South African comedian to appear on The Tonight Show. He went on to appear in the documentary You Laugh But It’s True, about his upbringing, then he starred in a stand-up special for Showtime.

Noah became a Daily Show correspondent in 2014 and found out he would be the new host after three appearances. While it’s arguable whether he has emerged from the shadow of Stewart, fans have accepted and embraced Noah. When he learned he would be the host, he told The New York Times: “You don’t believe it for the first few hours. You need a stiff drink, and then unfortunately you’re in a place where you can’t really get alcohol.”