Humor, Love, and Systemic Oppression in Born A Crime

Students explore the complexity of navigating race and racism within societies and analyze how Trevor Noah leverages elements of fiction such as characterization, figurative language, humor, symbolism, elements to develop his complex argument about racism and its impact on identity development through their reading of the memoir, Born a Crime.



Unit 4

9th Grade

Unit Summary

“Since I belonged to no group I learned to move seamlessly between groups. I was a chameleon, still, a cultural chameleon” 
- Trevor Noah in Born a Crime (p. 140)

In Unit 4, students will examine the complexity of navigating race, culture, and systemic oppression in South African and American societies as they read Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. During this unit, students will compare and contrast the treatment of interracial marriage in several legal and historical primary and secondary sources, analyze how authors leverage literary and rhetorical elements such as characterization, figurative language, anecdotes, humor, and contrasts and intentionally structure their texts in narrative nonfiction, and dissect how authors use humor to convey central ideas across genres.

As students are reading Born a Crime, they will be analyzing how Trevor Noah leverages many of these elements to develop his complex argument about racism and its impact on identity development.

This unit starts with a close reading of Lucille Clifton’s “Love Rejected” and provides students the opportunity to examine how Clifton uses syntax and word choice to convey central ideas in such short text. In the remainder of the first arc of the unit, students read a variety of supplemental texts to explore the impact of apartheid and laws banning interracial marriage that existed not only in South Africa, but also in the United States as well. Texts include the U.S Reports: Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967); an excerpt from Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold” ...and the Boys; Immorality Act of 1927; and Loving trailer. At the end of arc one, students will engage in a Socratic seminar and write an insight piece, putting various authors and texts into conversation with each other and reaching a new conclusion.

The second arc of the unit is a study of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, a memoir about Noah’s time growing up as a half-black half-white boy under apartheid and in the post-apartheid era in the 1990s. While reading this memoir, students will track pivotal moments in the text where Noah uses humor, noting when, how, and why he uses humor. Additionally, students will frequently zoom out analyzing the development of Noah’s argument about the intersection between race, love, and systemic oppression.

In the third and final arc of the unit, students will engage in a summative unit seminar on Noah’s Born a Crime and prepare for the unit performance task that asks students to consider their own identity development and the impact of societal and structural forces as they work on their own memoir and leverage Born a Crime as a mentor text. 

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Unit Syllabus

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 4 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge

Essential Questions


  • Race, Culture, and Identity Development: How does our race, culture, and upbringing shape who we are and who we become? To what extent do we have control of our identities and peoples' perceptions of us? 
  • Systemic Oppression and Love: How do governmental systems determine who, what, and how we can love? 


  • What role does humor play in developing arguments? How does the author use it to establish a connection with the audience? Convey difficult ideas? Build an argument? 
  • How does an author use rhetorical features and stylistic elements to contribute to the meaning of an argument? 


In order to successfully teach this unit, you must be intellectually prepared at the highest level, which means reading and analyzing all unit texts before launching the unit and understanding the major themes the authors communicate through their texts. By the time your students finish reading this text, they should be able to articulate and explain the major themes the authors communicate through their texts related to the following thematic topics as they uncover them organically through reading, writing, and discourse. While there is no one correct thematic statement for each major topic discussed in the unit texts, there are accurate (evidence-based) and inaccurate (non–evidence-based) interpretations of what the authors are arguing. Below are some exemplar thematic statements.

  • Systematic oppression and the cycle of poverty: 
    • Throughout the text, Noah highlights that his upbringing is the result of systemic oppression created by apartheid in South Africa and the inequality that persisted after apartheid ended. The cruelty of systematic oppression prevents the minority from realizing opportunities for social and economic mobility. 
  • The search for identity, belonging, and community: 
    • Noah’s identity as a mixed-raced person made his existence illegal; therefore, he never found a place in any one community. Being an “other” due to identity markers can force an individual to exist on the outside of communities or alter their personality and/or identity to seek belonging. 
  • Resilience through humor: 
    • While Noah’s upbringing is largely full of challenges and obstacles, he weaves in humor in his telling of almost every story. Humor and joy are essential aspects of resilience for those who are marginalized. In addition, these are forces of resistance and the tools for dealing with suffering. 
  • The power of love and faith: 
    • Throughout the text, Trevor Noah highlights his mother’s unwavering love for her son and her faith in God that help her to push through many obstacles caused by racism. Even in a society that does not value you, love and faith have the power to motivate you to survive, thrive, and seek fulfillment. 



"colored" people Afrikaans African National Congress Amabhujua Cape Town Inkatha Freedom Party Khoisan Soweto Xhosa Zulu anomaly apartheid arbitrary atrocity chameleon concession denounce impipi matriarch masquerade niche patriarch sovereign

Literary Term

Comedy versus Humor anecdote conflict diction irony symbol/symbolism tone

To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 9th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

LO 1.2A
LO 1.2A
LO 1.2B
LO 1.3A
LO 1.3B
LO 1.4A
LO 1.4B
LO 2.2A
LO 2.2B
LO 2.2C
LO 2.2E
LO 2.3A
LO 2.3B
LO 2.3C
LO 2.3D
LO 2.4A
LO 2.4B
LO 2.4C
LO 3.3A
LO 3.3B
LO 5.1A
LO 5.1B

Spiral Standards

LO 1.1A
LO 1.1C
LO 2.1A
LO 2.1B
LO 3.2B
LO 5.2A
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Unit 3

Coming of Age and Patriarchy in Dominicana