Trevor Noah weighs in on blackface controversies

Amid calls for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign over the racist photo printed in his 1984 medical school yearbook, “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah weighed in on the pain the blackface controversy is causing many Americans.

“I think a lot of time, it reminds people of a conversation that hasn’t been had in America, it feels like. That’s a conversation around race and America’s past,” Noah said. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, but it’s over now.’ Yes, but you still have to have the conversations around it. And to his credit, Gov. Northam does say… he wants to have the conversations.”

Earlier this month, Northam first apologized for appearing in the photo showing one man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume. He soon went on to change his response to the photo, saying he was neither of the men in the photo, but then admitted to wearing shoe polish to darken his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance competition. On Sunday, he told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King he’s “not going anywhere” and said when the picture surfaced, it was the first time he had seen it.

Last week, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to dressing in blackface as a 19-year-old college student, after initially calling for Northam to resign over the yearbook photo revelation.

“You keep going further and further down the chain, you’re going to find more and more blackface in Virginia. It’s not going to end. And so we like to think we can fire a person or we can get rid of somebody when we find something like this. But that doesn’t solve the problem,” Noah said. “That doesn’t help the conversation. Someone took that photo of him. Someone put that photo in the yearbook. Someone stood next to him in that photo. Everyone was in that community. The larger conversation is, in Virginia, what conversations do they need to be having around race and everywhere else?”

He gave the example of his home country of South Africa, where he was the son of interracial parents when interracial relationships were illegal.

“South Africa’s not perfect, our system wasn’t perfect. One thing I did appreciate is that I come from a country where we had to sit down and have completely truthful conversations about where the country was and how it came to be that way. And so I think what that gives you is a certain level of honesty when having these conversations,” Noah said.

Noah chronicles his experience in his memoir, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.” He realized while on tour that his stories could resonate universally, even for Americans. He said he met a young man in St. Paul, Minnesota, who told him, “Your life reminded me of my life.”

“I was like, but how? How? Did you grow up like I did? He’s like, ‘No, but there were so many things that you felt that I felt. I grew up, and I see my mom the same way, my family the same way.’ And so I’ve come to learn that if we can find things that connect us as human beings, you will find that many of us are on a similar journey. It’s just we focus on the things that separate us more than the things that bring us together,” Noah said.  

“Genuinely the book has been one of my greatest gifts,” he also said.

The paperback edition of “Born a Crime” goes on sale Tuesday.

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