Michael Wenye Li / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The Daily Show host tells Cornellians to ask themselves what kind of person they are in his talk on Sunday.

September 17, 2017

Trevor Noah Dissects U.S. Race Relations in Talk on Cornell Campus

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In a campus climate reaching a point of racial toxicity, The Daily Show Host Trevor Noah — who grew up as a mixed child in South Africa under apartheid — paid a visit.

Noah said there is an inherent fear that fuels racism and anger in America, a fear of “being replaced” and “becoming the minority.”

“What’s scary to consider is that the only reason you would be afraid of people of color becoming the majority is because you believe they would do to white people what white people did to them,” he said. “That’s the only reason. Otherwise, who cares whether you’re the minority or majority?”

The comedian added that the prevalence of the N-word is different in South Africa, which has given him a different take on the word’s use in America.

When Noah was in Chicago, a white man drove by in a pickup truck and called him the N-word. Rather than turn the other way, Noah yelled it back to him, subsequently alarming the driver.

“He almost crashed and died,” Noah laughed. “He looked at his hands like he had magically turned black, and because he was looking at his hands he swerved. That was the first time he’s ever been called the N-word.”

Noah said that his ability to respond in a casual way inherently stems from the privilege of growing up in a place where the N-word has “no power.”

“In South Africa, no one was suppressed using the N-word,” he said. “I can throw it back at someone a lot easier than other people might.”

When it came to his ability to use the word, Noah acknowledged his own privilege.

“I’m not going to give you the pleasure of seeing my pain,” Noah commented about the driver. “I know that this is not easy, I’m not going to say that all black people can do what I do. I know that it feels good because no one knows how to react to it, but I also know that I have privilege.”

Prior to Donald Trump’s presidency, Noah said Americans were mostly complacent about politics. They were on “auto-pilot,” failing to watch the news or engage in current affairs.

“Now people are paying attention,” he said. “People know more about politics than they’ve ever known. “We know about the 25th amendment. We know about conflicts of interest. We’re studying up on geopolitics.”

“Say what you want about Donald Trump,” he continued. “But when he is done, everyone in America will be qualified to be president of the United States.”

The comedian called Trump an emotional paradox, joking that the president is doing what “any uninformed person in the presidency would do — living his best life.”

“Many days I wake up terrified of the notion that he is president of the most powerful nation in the world,” Noah said. “But everyday I wake up knowing he’s going to make me laugh.”

Noah rejects claims that Trump made America “more racist,” arguing that America has struggled with racism for a long time. People like to romanticize villainy, he said.

“We make it seem like one man is bad and if we get rid of him then everyone is good,” he said. “But that one man just represents an idea.”

Trump is a product of racism, and racism exists in the fiber of America and its people, Noah said. However, racism does not have to define America.

“People ask, ‘Is America good or is America bad,’ and it can be both,” he said. “That’s how we are as human beings, we’re constantly trying to define ourselves.”

“Good people can do bad things, bad people can do good things,” Noah told his audience. “You have to ask yourself which one you are.”