Trevor Noah Says America Should Begin Treating Racism As a Disease (Video)

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Today (December 7), The Daily Show host Trevor Noah was the guest on The Breakfast Club, where the South African comedian and author discussed in great detail the racially-fraught history of his native country and its relation to the United States.

To begin the discussion, Noah explains that “apartheid made it illegal for Black and White people to interact with one another, my parents included. At the time, when they were a couple, it was against the law. Me being born was against the law.” “Apartheid was essentially perfect racism. I’m still learning about how perfect the system was,” he says. Near the 12:48 mark, he says “The government actually set up a commission to go around the world and study racism. America was one of the places they came” before adding that “South Africa and the U.S. are very different because, in terms of oppression, you have to acknowledge in South Africa Black people are the majority.” He says he’s learned from reading Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Nelson Mandela, and Steve Biko that “racism does not stand up well to contact. And that is one thing that I’ve noticed continuously; anecdotally, in my life, and through the stories of people I’ve read. But when people are in contact with someone of another race, you find that racism doesn’t hold up, because racism is based on race, and race is a construct that has been created to oppress people, and it is a fallacy at the end of the day.”

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At the 18:30 mark, Charlamagne asks Noah to expand upon an op-ed he wrote in yesterday’s (December 6) New York Times in which he urged readers to remember that divided people are easier to conquer, using his experience with apartheid as an example. “One of the greatest things apartheid did is sow seeds of discontent among people who were the same. Remember, Black people are 90% of the population in South Africa. How do you govern 90%? How do you keep them oppressed? What you do is convince them that they are not one. You convince them that they are all different groups.” He goes on to explain that groups of separation were drawn along tribal lines, essentially pitting the Zulu against Tswana, and so forth.

He brings the example a bit closer to home, pointing out that people have been calling Charlamagne “the worst thing to happen to Black people,” to which Noah says “really? Of all the things?” It’s easy, he says, for people to criticize Charlamagne while ignoring systemic issues like voter ID laws and mass incarceration because those things “seem so big, so we might as well just punch each other on the way there.”

What helped Noah and his family, and likely millions of other South Africans coming out of apartheid, was what he calls “an acknowledgment.” The Truth & Reconciliation Committee in South Africa, he says, helped the people of his country “sit down as a nation and go ‘this shit is real. This shit happened. Slavery is real. This is what the people did. These are the lives that they took.'” If such a process were applied in the United States, it would be a major step in at least attempting to forge a serious path to healing. “It was the acknowledgment that we, as people of color, are not crazy. In America, it feels like that hasn’t happened. In America there hasn’t been, like, a ‘yes, OK, let’s be honest. This country was designed to oppress you.’ At least that, so as a person of color you can go ‘OK, I’m not crazy.'” Angela Yee asks Noah if he can visualize such an acknowledgment ever happening in the United States, to which he responds “I don’t think so. The fear of retribution, I feel like, would be too high.”

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At the 29:38 mark, Noah goes into more depth, saying that even if the racial divide in this country is deep-rooted, that doesn’t make it impossible to find a solution. “I don’t know that it’ll happen in my lifetime. Think of it like this. Look at global warming. Look at recycling. Even in your office, I see people recycling. They throw their plastic containers in one bin and then they throw their trash in another bin. Why do we do that? We acknowledge that this thing is bigger than all of us,” he says. It’s the incremental, individual actions that really begin to affect change in society, and the same could be said of racism.

“Fundamentally, I believe we treat racism the wrong way, because I think we should treat racism like a disease, and not as a choice. I believe that racism is hereditary. It is passed down from generation to generation, just like alcoholism. If you are not born in a world where racism exists, you don’t become racist. It is taught to you. And you can get it in later life, just like you can become an alcoholic later on in life,” he argues. “The problem I have is when you shun racists, when you cut them out of society, where do they go to? I don’t understand that logic. When Donald Sterling [former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team] had his racist tirade, what happens to him? They gave him a billion dollars, and he goes home. Is that guy not racist anymore? Now you got a racist billionaire, the worst kind.”

Beyond race, though, Noah argues that the two-party system in America creates more division than is necessary, and he goes into detail at the 26:07 mark. Also discussed is Charlamagne’s relationship with Tomi Lahren and the blowback he has received on Twitter and elsewhere for appearing to be embracing her as a personality, as well as his and Noah’s feelings about being called coons for appearing with her in the media. Of course, Donald Trump and the election are also discussed, as well.

Tonight (December 7), Atlanta star Brian Tyree Henry (Paperboy) will be Trevor Noah’s guest on The Daily Show.