This is an essay I wrote in place of a final for my AP Literature class:
The cultural signification of language and how it pertains to existing as a ‘colored’ person in the third space in Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” is an element worth exploring. Divisions of language in South Africa were primarily introduced by the enablers of apartheid — meant to exist as a divider along racial lines. However, language is used in the book by non-whites, such as Noah, as a tool to compensate for any such racial divide. In trying to dismantle the unity of a black South Africa, the ‘architects of apartheid’ created their own third space — language –– as a medium existing outside of the black and white racial boundaries fostered by apartheid, allowing a bridge between races. It is this space that Noah uses to navigate his existence as multiethnic — as both white and black — as someone who embodies the third space in itself. Because of the language and racial divisions created by apartheid, and because of Noah’s existence as a ‘colored’ individual in the previously mentioned third space, Noah finds himself able to cross racial boundaries using mimicry and hybridity as they pertain to language
Mimicry is the occurrence of a colonized people imitating the colonizer in some form; Bhabha, the ‘father’ of this concept, writes, “mimicry emerges as one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge,” (Bhabha, 126). Mimicry with regards to language is an especially pertinent element of Noah’s novel, particularly when associated with knowing English, and inexorably tied to race. Noah utilizes Bhabha’s aforementioned strategy of colonial power and knowledge to benefit himself when it comes to knowing English. Noah writes, “If you’re black in South Africa, speaking English is the one thing that can give you a leg up...English comprehension is equated with intelligence. If you’re looking for a job, English is the difference between getting the job or staying unemployed. If you’re standing in the dock, English is the difference between getting off with a fine or going to prison,” (Noah, 54). By mimicking the oppressor with speaking a language he wouldn’t otherwise, Noah is allowed access to opportunities that he most likely would not be able to without the benefit of English. This benefit of mimicry of English gives Noah power in the white world, even though he himself is mixed race. Speaking English crystalizes his place in apartheid in some sense, it gives him ground to walk on as someone who struggles with identity. Knowing English — mimicry — grants Noah a certain place in the complex social hierarchy of apartheid itself; it’s a tool used by Noah to gain sense in a world where he is labeled as ‘colored’.
Hybridity is used in the same way. Hybridity is described as a “celebrated and privileged as a kind of superior cultural intelligence owing to the advantage of in-betweenness, the straddling of two cultures and the consequent ability to negotiate the difference,” (Hoogvelt 1997: 158). Noah directly benefits from this third space, from this in-betweenness, particularly when it comes to language. For example, several black men plan on robbing Noah because of his perceived whiteness, speaking in Zulu about how they would do it, and Noah spins around, speaking Zulu back to them, to which they left him without doing any harm. Noah writes about this particular incident, “[t]hey were ready to do me violent harm, until they felt we were part of the same tribe, and then we were cool,” (56). Noah’s knowledge of Zulu despite his white-passing nature allowed him a free-pass when it came to racial violence — a bi-product of hybridity. Noah, being biracial, knows both English as well as Zulu, and this hybrity of both race and language gives him the power, the privilege, to navigate a world without being restricted by a binary concept of race.
Noah’s identity is one of confusion and of fluidity, as he exists in the third space, outside of the binary enforced by apartheid; this third space can be chaos; Noah writes, “[f]or all that black people have suffered, they know who they are. Colored people don’t,” (Noah, 116). However, with the toolset that mimicry and hybridity allow, Noah begins to rely on language as a means of navigating the third space effectively.
Bhabha, Homi. “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse.” October, vol. 28, 1984, pp. 125–133. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/778467. (Link)
Hoogvelt, A. (1997). Globalization and the Postcolonial World: The New Political Economy of Development. Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press. (Link)
Meredith, Paul, 1998. ‘Hybridity in the Third Space: Rethinking Bi-Cultural Politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand’, paper presented to the Te Oru Rangahau Maori Research and Development Conference, Massey University, 7–9 July. (Link)
Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime. London: John Murray (Publishers), 2017. (Link)
Here you will find specifically academic pieces, such as essays I have completed for school that are related to the pursuit of justice.