The University of Connecticut organized a student-led watch-party for “Get With the Times,” a conversation between comedian and host of “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah and New York Times journalist John Eligon on race and identity under the Trump administration. The talk was filmed in front of a live student audience at Northwestern University in Illinois and livestreamed to almost 80 colleges around the U.S.
Noah, a South African native, spent his childhood during the last years of apartheid -- a time of racial segregation in which non-white and white South Africans were separated from each other. Being the only black host of late night television, Noah brings a unique perspective on race relations under our current political climate.
Eligon covers race for the Times and has recently written about the NFL protests and Charlottesville. He is also an alumnus of Northwestern University.
A handful of students piled into the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center on Sunday night and even had an opportunity to ask Noah a question in a video submitted to the Times for selection.
Noah began by reading a passage from his New York Times bestselling new book, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.” In it, Noah recognizes he lived a somewhat sheltered life, going to an elite, Catholic primary school. Born to an African mother and a Swiss father, Noah remembers not quite fitting in with either the black or white students. He also remembers speaking Zulu and other African languages to black students on the playground and felt more connected to them this way. When he asked his school counselor to switch him from the “A” classes, filled primarily with white students, to the “B” classes, filled primarily with black students, she told him that the black students would hold him back. Unfortunately, Noah says this example of racism is not limited to South Africa.
As a young boy, Noah said he felt connected to black culture in America through television shows, movies and music. He admitted his view of black Americans was stereotypical and limited, but thought a rapper’s gold chains, Mercedes-Benz and mansion were aspirational.
“It was really encouraging to hear him speak about such important issues,” said Karina Zhao, a third-semester business major. “Talking about his childhood in South Africa made me understand that we can all become aware of our faults and have relationships with people from different backgrounds.”
Noah took questions from students on the importance of journalists in today’s world, politically correct speakers on college campuses and getting hate on Twitter.
He reminded the audience that the best way to understand something is to talk about it. He said that part of his success as a comedian in America is being able to question everything.
“We need to recognize how prominent racism is, even if we don’t always see it,” said Rachel Sullivan, a first-semester political science major. “We need to try to find a way to fight it, knowing what conditions are actually like in other parts of the country.”
Leah Sheltry is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.