02/01/2017 HARDtalk


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02/01/2017

Stephen Sackur talks to newsmakers and personalities from across the globe.


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Now it's time for HARDtalk.

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Welcome to HARDtalk with me, Zeinab Badawi.

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My guest is comedian and satirist Trevor Noah,

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who presents one of the most influential programmes on American

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TV, the Daily Show.

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Born a crime to a black mother and white father in apartheid

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South Africa, he has navigated his way through the explosive issue

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of race and identity.

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With critics claiming that Donald Trump's victory has

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encouraged intolerant rhetoric, does he fear that the space

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for liberal satire such as his is shrinking?

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Trevor Noah, welcome to HARDtalk.

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Thank you, Zeinab.

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You were born in 1984, six years before Nelson Mandela was released.

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Your father is a white Swiss man, your mother was black,

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a union punishable by five years in prison.

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How did it feel to be born a crime?

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Well, the truth is for me it didn't feel any different to being born

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I guess any differently, because I was really lucky in that

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I was insulated as a child, so I grew up under apartheid

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but I was spared from a lot of the ills of apartheid.

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My parents were in a world where they were the ones who faced

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the ills, that's what I talk about in the book, I don't make it

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seem like it was my struggle, it's a struggle I didn't even know

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I was part of, essentially, and by the time I became aware

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of it I was lucky enough South Africa abolished apartheid

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laws and then we very rapidly moved into democracy.

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You just published your book called Born a Crime: Stories

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from a South African Childhood.

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You've just said now that you were insulated from

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that but at the beginning your mother actually hid you from view,

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kept you at home, you didn't lead a normal early childhood in that

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respect, how did you amuse yourself, did you live in your

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head or something?

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That's the great thing about books.

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I lived in a world where I could be anywhere.

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Thanks to books I travelled the world.

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I've been to France and to space.

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I've been to Charlie's Chocolate Factory with Willie Wonka,

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I've been everywhere.

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That's what I try to explain, I never tried to make it seem

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like I was one who was suffering.

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My family and people were suffering but because I was a child I only

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knew this world, you know?

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I watched a beautiful movie called Room.

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It's a fascinating story about a woman who's trapped

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in a bunker with her child, and the child doesn't know

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that the world exists beyond this room because the mother has done

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such a great job of insulating him, and that's what happened to us.

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We were in a tough world where my mum couldn't be seen

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to be my mother, she couldn't be with my father, she couldn't

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sometimes be with me in public yet she still made that seemed

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like a normal world, which is a testament

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to her parenting.

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She really did, as you describe, take on a great deal on your behalf.

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You saw your father once a week and you say how basically,

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if I can paraphrase it, you were basically too white

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for your black mother and too black for your white father.

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So what happened when you did go out in public with your mother

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or when you saw your father in public?

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Well, we very seldom went out together because that

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would cause commotion.

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My parents were always trying to obscure the fact

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that they were a couple.

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As much as the country on the face of the laws was changing,

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you know, anyone who knows about apartheid tells you that

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what the government said to the international community

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was not what was happening on the streets, they were trying

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to paint a facade of a country that wasn't bad, they were trying

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to create a world that didn't seem like it was oppressive

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but it really was.

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So sometimes my mum and I would go out with my dad.

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For instance, my mum would often times dress as a maid

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to navigate this world.

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As a black person you didn't have the freedoms a white person had

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in South Africa.

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She'd go out with a coloured friend pushing you in the pushchair

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because you look coloured.

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There were three ways she would do it.

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If my mum was with me, she would dress like a maid and act

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like she was looking after the child of someone.

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If she couldn't do that, she would get her friend who looked

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like me, who was my skin tone, to act like she was my mother

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and my mother would walk with us, that is how we could

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navigate more freely.

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I have pictures of me as a child with my mum in the background photo

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bombing the pictures.

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If we went with my dad...

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I remember one day I went to the park with them and I only

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remember it as a story of me going to the park with my parents.

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My mum tells me of how we went to the park and I started

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chasing my dad and screaming, "Daddy," and he ran away from me

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and I chased him.

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You thought it was a game?

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And my mum started chasing me.

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Which child...

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Even when you see kids today, they don't think anything

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is happening beyond them playing.

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You were running after your father saying "Daddy, daddy."

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You thought it was a game when he was running away but it's

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because he didn't want to acknowledge you in public, tough?

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It was completely a game for me, so tough for them but really

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exciting for me.

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Your black grandparents lived in Soweto and you would visit them

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obviously, but you say you were treated differently

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from your cousins and other members of the family,

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they treated you as an honorary white.

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That was one of the vestiges of apartheid.

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My grandfather called me master my entire life.

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Sometimes I could feel it was an exaggeration

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but it was definitely implicitly speaking to the country

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that we lived in.

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He didn't treat me any differently but he always referred

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to me as master.

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My grandmother didn't do that but she never administered

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beatings for instance.

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My grandmother oftentimes would be the one who disciplined all the kids

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because we would stay together and our mums would all be at work,

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and I was the one that was never hit.

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She used to tell my mum she was afraid of hitting me

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because she didn't know how to hit a "white" child.

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The bruises were blue and green and red and she says black children

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she understood because it's all the same, but with me

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she was so afraid of committing the crime the government

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told her she would be committing.

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Then things got tough at home, your mother married a violent

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alcoholic man, Abel, your stepfather, a mechanic.

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You turned to pawn broking and also dealing in stolen goods.

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You spent a week in a cell.

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Your life could have gone down a different path?

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Definitely.

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I think that's a story all too familiar for anyone who grows up

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in a place where there is poverty and in a place

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where there is oppression.

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If opportunities are not afforded to communities,

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they afford themselves the opportunities.

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I always say one thing that I admire about crime is that it has

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a fantastic outreach programme.

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Crime doesn't discriminate.

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Crime doesn't stop seeking out new opportunities for people.

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If you have ever lived in an informal community

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you will know that the lines of crime are very blurred.

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We call it crime now and we do know it as crime,

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the law, yes, but informally people trade and people are swapping things

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and trying to make ends meet.

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I definitely could have ended up in a different place in my life,

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which is a story that happens all too often.

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But it didn't to you, you got out and you launched

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yourself into a career of comedy and so on and became fantastically

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successful in South Africa before you moved to the United States.

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You say in your book you were mixed but not coloured,

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coloured by complexion but not by culture.

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Do you feel now we ascribe to much of an identity to people based

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on their colour?

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Because you're black you have to behave in this way,

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because you're coloured you have to behave in this way,

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white and so on and forth.

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I don't think we can deny the colour has become linked to something.

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So let's go with this, basically race is a construct

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but that construct has been used in a lot of ways to define cultures.

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So now the two have almost become linked.

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So if you have black skin it is likely you grew up in a black

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or African culture and now if you have an African culture

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you're going to give birth to more children,

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those children will be black and so now black people have African

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cultures, African people are black, it becomes, you know,

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a self-perpetuating cycle, it's never going to end,

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it's a feedback loop.

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So we have prescribed too much to it, I think we have

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created that world.

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You do see it in some countries where language is more unifying,

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where themes go across.

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You know, I've talked to people from places

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like the Dominican Republic where they go, race

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is not really something.

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Other things may define your identity.

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Exactly.

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People in Brazil have the same ideals.

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Nevertheless, racial observations have formed in the early stages

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the backbone of your stand-up comedy career.

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Do you now regret some of the jokes you made?

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Let me give you an example, you said my mother, black

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South African, was saying, "Get me a white guy.

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Well, my father was white Swiss, of course he liked chocolate."

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That sounds funny to me even when you say it!

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That sounded really funny.

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Why would I regret that?

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Why would you regret that?

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Because some people say that's not very funny.

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But the people laugh.

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Everyone can say something is not really funny.

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Just like the way some people don't like Indian food.

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Let me give you an example.

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We have a well-established black comedian in Britain called

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Lenny Henry, he has said he regrets doing that kind of joke

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where he said he would wipe his sweating brow and say,

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"Huh, I'm leaking chocolate."

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But that is different.

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It's not, it's using chocolate.

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That is different.

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The Swiss love chocolate is not a pejorative term.

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You're referring to your mother's skin colour as chocolate.

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Yes, because my mother is proud to be dark, beautiful chocolate.

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That's what she's saying.

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I talk about this in the book as well, I saw people

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and race as chocolate.

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I wouldn't use that, I'm that colour and I wouldn't say that.

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When I grew up I believed that all people were chocolates.

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My mum was dark chocolate, my dad was white chocolate

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and I was milk chocolate.

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So I see all people as chocolates.

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You see that as funny but do you not realise that some people

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might not like that?

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Lenny Henry went on to say, that joke about how he was leaking

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chocolate, he says, "I knew there had to be a better way

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of trying to put the message over, putting your jokes over

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without having to pick on people because of their colour

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or their race."

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His view is different from yours.

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Because he's Lenny Henry and I'm Trevor Noah.

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But also he's black.

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He's talking about leaking chocolate, implying his skin colour

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was not something that belonged to him.

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That's a different idea.

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He is trying to say his skin colour is chocolate,

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you're splitting hairs here.

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That's exactly what we should be doing.

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I'm not sure I would say what you said.

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You're creating racial jokes...

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You're creating monoliths of jokes and that's not fair to do.

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Every single joke has a context, every single joke comes

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from a place.

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The most important thing with comedy is context.

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Without context, no conversation is complete.

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Without context, no communication can truly appreciate...

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If you take that out of context, so I'm putting it to you,

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given what Lenny Henry has said, are you not guilty in some

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of your routines with a joke like that of reinforcing prejudices

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and promoting stereotypes in the minds of people who may be

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inclined to think like that and then they'll think,

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"Oh, Trevor Noah says his mother's s chocolate, I'm going to say that

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to my black friends," and they might take offence.

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You could be reinforcing prejudice.

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You could be doing anything if you're not doing the opposite.

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How your action is implied does not define what you were doing.

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Let's look at another aspect of race.

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A few years ago you moved to the United States.

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Your routine as a comedian often mimicked Africans and also

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African Americans, and about African Americans

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you have said this.

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"You are not African but we play along.

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It's a very loose term, African American, because half

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the time you use it for people who aren't even African.

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As long as you're black they say African American."

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I didn't deliver it like that, you're not doing my jokes justice.

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All right, yeah.

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I'm not Trevor Noah and I'm not a comedian, satirist.

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I'm just asking, are they not African American?

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Here's what you're missing.

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What you're doing right now is the equivalent of me saying,

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"Now it's raining more than ever, I'll be here with you forever.

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You can always be my friend, standing under my umbrella.

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'Ella, 'ella, 'ella, 'ella, 'ella, 'ella,

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'ella, 'ella, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, 'ella, 'ella,

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'ella, ay ay ..."

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I seem like a mad person right now because I'm not doing everything

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that was within the context of the song Umbrella by Rihanna.

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When you're doing comedy merely by words, I spoke it,

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my eyes, my voice, my connection with an audience

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is completely different.

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People can see when you're being playful.

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People can see when you're saying something you don't believe.

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You were being playful about that?

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That is what satire is, you're poking holes.

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So you don't believe what you said?

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No, no, no.

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What you're leaving out in that whole joke is what I was talking

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about was how in America, in America, Anglo-Saxons had

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successfully removed Americanisms from minorities so every single

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group in America had an identity attached to their Americanness

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except white Americans.

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So it's African American, Asian American, Hispanic American,

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Latin American, Native American.

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I don't know, you have Irish Americans, they're white.

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You have Polish Americans.

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No, no, that didn't become on a box.

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And this is a joke for Americans, understand that.

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So as an American, they understand this.

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On the boxes there is no Irish American, there is only white,

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but there is African American, and there is Asian American,

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do you get what I'm saying?

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So that's the whole point of the joke.

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The point I was trying to make is there was a shift amongst

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the black American community to start calling themselves African

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American.

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They didn't want a definition by default, ie you were not white,

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so therefore you were black.

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They wanted to have a hyphenated identity that linked them

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with the continent of their ancestors, and therefore

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when you say, "Oh, they're not really African, they're playing

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along," you cannot disconnect what you say from this debate that's

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really, you know, captured the imagination of the African

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American, black American community.

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And also, the point I want to make to you, when you say that it now

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feeds into a debate that's current in the United States.

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Kwame Kwei-Armah, the black Briton theatre director

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in the United States says he has conversations with African Americans

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now who say we want to go back to being called black American

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because we don't have anything in common with these recently

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arrived African Americans, be they Somalis, Nigerians,

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South Africans such as you, they have different language

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and so on.

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So what you say feeds into that debate and it sounds like you're

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saying there is a difference between African Americans and black

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Americans?

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There definitely is a difference.

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Right.

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But these are differences that can be celebrated or used

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to separate people.

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Noting differences does not implicitly make it a bad thing.

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When you are noticing differences, you can note them for good reasons,

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the same reason we notice different colours or flowers.

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That can be a good thing, if you're using it to celebrate.

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You can use it the same way apartheid used it

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to separate people.

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When you talk about African-Americans, the one

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conversation that I was talking about is I was travelling America

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and I was going to a lot of universities and I came

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to realise, in many universities in America,

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the conversation you are having now, they had.

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They had an African-American student body and very quickly they noticed

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a shift because they could not lump black people into a monolith.

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Because there were people from the Caribbean who said,

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we are not African-American.

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There were people from Africa who were like, these

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are not our views, we are Africans in America.

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There's a difference.

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So what people themselves did was said, you can't just lump us

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into this group.

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Fine.

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And does that difference mean that it doesn't act

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as a cohesive form?

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I'm thinking, in 2014, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

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the celebrated Nigerian author, she said that

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when she visited the US she felt that her African-American classmate

0:16:500:16:54

was annoyed with her because she didn't share their anger

0:16:540:16:56

and she said that she was not burdened, herself, by America's

0:16:560:17:00

terrible racial history.

0:17:000:17:05

That difference, does it result in the African-Americans who have

0:17:050:17:08

arrived recently in the US, such as yourself, acting differently

0:17:080:17:11

or having a different psyche from the black Americans

0:17:110:17:14

who are the descendants of slaves and have lived for many,

0:17:140:17:17

many years, obviously, in the US?

0:17:170:17:25

I will say this, I will be careful not to comment on the experience

0:17:250:17:29

of every single person because I am only myself and can only experience

0:17:290:17:32

the people who are around me.

0:17:320:17:43

What I do know is this.

0:17:430:17:47

In terms of our racial histories, South Africa

0:17:470:17:49

and America are very similar.

0:17:490:17:50

When I talk to a black American person, there are many stories

0:17:500:17:54

that we share as human beings, there are many oppressions

0:17:540:17:56

that we have experienced through our selective oppressors.

0:17:560:17:59

I think those are the things that many people can relate

0:17:590:18:01

to a across-the-board.

0:18:010:18:02

So there's more to unite, even though you say

0:18:020:18:05

there are differences?

0:18:050:18:06

There is definitely more to unite, especially when you are being

0:18:060:18:09

oppressed as a group.

0:18:090:18:10

When you are in the US as a black African man,

0:18:100:18:13

I can tell you now that if you have an encounter

0:18:130:18:16

with the police they are not going to split the hairs that

0:18:160:18:19

you are talking about.

0:18:190:18:20

They're not going to say, excuse me, Trevor Noah,

0:18:200:18:22

are you from South Africa or Detroit?

0:18:230:18:24

That doesn't happen.

0:18:240:18:25

But here you are, a black icon, South African born and so on,

0:18:250:18:29

and you present one of the most iconic news

0:18:290:18:31

programmes in the US,

0:18:310:18:32

The Daily Show you took over from John Stewart last year.

0:18:320:18:35

Now we see a lot being made about fake news appearing

0:18:350:18:38

on websites on the internet, and that's something people lament,

0:18:380:18:41

particularly in the recent presidential campaign,

0:18:410:18:43

because it kind of distorts facts.

0:18:430:18:44

Do you feel that you in some way use mockery, fake incredulity

0:18:440:18:47

and exaggeration,

0:18:470:18:48

that perhaps you're treading a fine line yourself?

0:18:480:18:51

I don't think so, because we are operating in the space

0:18:510:18:54

of a news parody and satire.

0:18:540:18:58

When you talk about fake news, the biggest difference is it never

0:18:580:19:01

tells you that it is fake news.

0:19:010:19:03

We let you know from the beginning.

0:19:030:19:06

We are on Comedy Central.

0:19:060:19:12

I tell you from the get go who I am.

0:19:120:19:15

There is no facade.

0:19:150:19:16

So when you come to our show...

0:19:160:19:18

One thing we do maintain is factual accuracy and that is a standard

0:19:180:19:22

and a legacy that I inherited from John Stewart and I keep it.

0:19:220:19:25

I keep it not because of moral high ground, but because I believe

0:19:250:19:29

the best jokes are based in truth, and so when your

0:19:290:19:32

true foundation is solid you will find that your jokes

0:19:320:19:34

connect with more people.

0:19:340:19:35

Are you not contributing to that kind of echo chamber effect?

0:19:350:19:39

Now we are seeing that there is a lot of personal

0:19:390:19:41

invective on social media,

0:19:410:19:42

traditional media, polarised opinions.

0:19:430:19:44

Are you perhaps becoming part of that?

0:19:440:19:46

You are implicitly a part of it, though.

0:19:460:19:48

How do you not be a part of it?

0:19:480:19:50

I'll tell you one way you can not be a part of it,

0:19:500:19:54

is by trying to operate in a space where you are completely neutral,

0:19:540:19:57

devoid of all opinion and giving everybody an equal platform

0:19:570:20:00

to share their views.

0:20:000:20:03

Oftentimes what we've seen is all you are doing when you do

0:20:030:20:07

this is you are giving a platform to either hate speech or to divisive

0:20:070:20:11

rhetoric that is extreme, and the middle keeps getting pushed

0:20:110:20:13

over to the right.

0:20:130:20:19

So when you look at conversations that are had...

0:20:190:20:21

So for instance, when someone will be on CNN

0:20:210:20:24

saying, "Are dues people"?

0:20:240:20:25

And then you're like, are you going to give that

0:20:250:20:30

person a platform?

0:20:300:20:31

So if I say the world is square, do I deserve a platform?

0:20:310:20:34

When I go against science, do I deserve a platform?

0:20:340:20:37

When I go against things that we know, why do we still give

0:20:370:20:41

these people a platform?

0:20:410:20:42

The truth is we do it because we want to maintain

0:20:420:20:45

the appearance of impartiality.

0:20:450:20:46

But the news then loses focus, because the news should

0:20:460:20:49

be fact driven.

0:20:490:20:51

Am I correct?

0:20:510:20:52

No, you answer that. Yeah, of course.

0:20:520:20:54

Should it be fact driven?

0:20:540:20:55

Yeah, comment is free, fact is sacred, is what we always say.

0:20:550:20:59

So, if you've got the facts... We haven't got much time.

0:20:590:21:02

Now fact has become opinion.

0:21:020:21:03

OK, but do you feel now that you're concerned that there is right wing

0:21:030:21:07

rhetoric and power now combined?

0:21:070:21:08

And I'm thinking of Steve Bannon, who is now going to be appointed

0:21:080:21:12

chief strategist to Donald Trump at the White House, chairman

0:21:120:21:14

of Breitbart News, the Conservative website,

0:21:140:21:16

where one headline said the Confederate flag proclaims

0:21:160:21:18

a glorious heritage.

0:21:180:21:19

And of course the Confederate flag was used by the southern states,

0:21:190:21:22

the slave-owning states.

0:21:220:21:27

Are you worried about that combination between right-wing

0:21:270:21:29

rhetoric?

0:21:290:21:38

Definitely...definitely.

0:21:380:21:38

Because, essentially, Donald Trump may not be saying it

0:21:380:21:41

using his words, but the people he's surrounding himself

0:21:410:21:43

with echo the sentiment that he is not creating

0:21:430:21:45

an inclusive America,

0:21:450:21:46

does not plan to be a president that unifies America.

0:21:460:21:49

Well, he has said he wants to unify America, and I'm not saying

0:21:490:21:52

that he himself has got far right views, I'm just saying

0:21:530:21:56

that there are those from the far right who have hailed his victory.

0:21:560:21:59

Yes, but you see this is interesting because look at you now

0:22:000:22:03

as a news person.

0:22:030:22:04

You are in the uncomfortable position where you have to appear

0:22:040:22:07

to not say anything that implies anything,

0:22:070:22:09

even though it is laid out before us.

0:22:090:22:12

So I ask you this question.

0:22:120:22:14

You will go, "Somebody is not racist, nor are they..."

0:22:140:22:17

I'm not saying that. I'm just saying...

0:22:170:22:19

No, no, I'm saying, as an example, someone goes, "You're not far

0:22:190:22:23

right", but if you surround yourself with those people,

0:22:230:22:25

if you are at meetings with these people, if these people are having

0:22:250:22:29

events where they are heiling,

0:22:290:22:30

if the rhetoric that is around you completely is that,

0:22:300:22:33

are you not that?

0:22:330:22:36

I'm just saying that there are those of the far right

0:22:360:22:39

who are using his victory to legitimise their discourse.

0:22:390:22:41

Definitely.

0:22:410:22:42

You backed Hillary Clinton, you urged your viewers to vote

0:22:420:22:45

for Hillary Clinton in the presidential campaign.

0:22:450:22:47

We already know Donald Trump has criticised the Saturday Night Live

0:22:470:22:50

for running a sketch about him, saying he was totally unprepared

0:22:500:22:53

for the presidency, and so on and so forth.

0:22:530:22:56

Finally, are you Trevor Noah going to be careful with what you say

0:22:560:22:59

about President Trump because the space is

0:22:590:23:01

shrinking for you?

0:23:010:23:07

I will say this.

0:23:070:23:09

I will be as careful in talking about Donald Trump

0:23:090:23:14

as he was when he was speaking about Barack Obama.

0:23:140:23:17

Because at the end of the day, free speech, and that is something

0:23:170:23:23

I appreciate and celebrate, free speech means that

0:23:230:23:25

you have the right to speak out against things that you see.

0:23:250:23:29

You know, any ludicrous ideas are any instances

0:23:290:23:34

where there is hypocrisy within politics.

0:23:340:23:36

I have that right and I intend to use it.

0:23:360:23:42

I am not fundamentally opposed to Donald Trump as a human being,

0:23:420:23:46

but I am in a position where every single day I will be

0:23:460:23:49

living in a country that is under his presidency

0:23:490:23:52

and so if he affords me comedic material,

0:23:520:23:54

then I will only do what I can do, which is turn that into fodder

0:23:540:23:58

and put it on a TV show, that is a fake news show.

0:23:580:24:04

Trevor Noah, thank you so much for coming on HARDtalk.

0:24:040:24:07

Thank you for having me.

0:24:070:24:24

Hello.

0:24:320:24:33