Reframing Historical Narratives: Reviewing Trevor Noah's Born a Crime

Eurocentrism and the Eurocentric Ways in Which Africa is Expected to Remember History

I am re-reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah as part of my Book Club 'Book of the Month' and on this 3rd read, I’m again struck by a Chapter/Story titled ‘Go Hitler!’

Trevor had a childhood friend called ‘Hitler’. Named after Germany’s Hitler. It’s not uncommon to find Africans with such interesting names. Parents will name their children after known personalities, or depending on what’s trending at the time of birth or even based on their aspirations for their children and so it is no surprise to find People with names like “Barrack Obama’ or ‘Hurricane Dorian’ or Cyclone Idai, ‘Badluck or even ‘Goodluck’

Trevor, Hitler and their group of friends were hired to perform at a Jewish school in SA and completely oblivious of how offensive the name ‘Hitler’ is to Jews, kept chanting ‘GOO HITLERRR! GOOO HITLERRRRR’ as Hitler danced. The Jewish teachers and entire school were so offended they threw Trevor and his friends out.

Trevor points out from this encounter that for them ‘Hitler’ was just another name. Just another ‘Strongman from the history books’.  If anything, Hitler was the man who was whooping Britain’s ass. The same Britain that had condemned Africans to a life of slavery under colonization. This is by no way excusing Hitler and his crimes because what he did was unforgivable. But at the time, for an African, Hitler was not the worst thing that could have happened to Africa. Britain and the Brits were. We are expected to hate Hitler for what he did to the Jews but we are not allowed to feel the same way towards the Brits, the French or Germans because what they did to us was ordained in scripture. 

It’s interesting how history is remembered and how it is shaped. As Africans, we are expected to completely disregard our own history and immerse ourselves in the history and lives of others. 

We are expected to forget the crimes of Leopold and his genocide in the Congo that has far reaching effects till today but remember the execution of the ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. We are expected to forget the Genocide by the French in Algeria that wiped out Millions of Algerians but commiserate with the French on the Notre Dame fire. We are expected to forget the wiping out of the Herero and Namaqua People of Namibia by the Germans but remember the Serbs targeting of the Bosniaks and Croatians.

These are all grave historical atrocities where human beings have turned against each other in the vilest and most unforgivable ways but what is more concerning for me is Europe’s arrogance in believing that theirs is the only history that matters. Africa’s history is relegated to the back banner. Rendered irrelevant. Europe has and continues to look at Africa/Africans with disdain and yet expect, nay, demand that Africa share in its causes, its anger, its values and histories. It is unforgivable for an African to not know that Handke supported and spoke at Milosivec’s funeral but it’s completely excusable and acceptable for a European to still be confused as to whether Africa is a country or a continent.

I’m reminded of the 1990 Koppel Interview with Nelson Mandela where he was accused of playing favourites with America’s rivals - Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat and Muammar Gadafi and in his, as always classy response, said:

“One of the mistakes which some political analysts make is to think that their enemies should be our enemies….Our attitude towards any country is determined by the attitude of that country to our struggle.” 

Mandela proceeded to elaborate how these leaders had contributed, not just in rhetoric, but through resources to the Anti-Apartheid struggle and that for him, was the hallmark of true friendship.

I’ll conclude and say this, If Europe or the West expects such high standards of Africans, then it follows that they should also be held to the same standard when it comes to matters Africa.


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