Collected Quotes: Born a Crime – Stories from a South African Childhood

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Best Of

Part 1

“Sun’qhela is a phrase with many shades of meaning. It says “don’t undermine me,” “don’t underestimate me,” and “just try me.”
“Chapter 1: Run” Location 182-184


“She wanted to do something, figured out a way to do it, and then she did it. She had a level of fearlessness that you have to possess to take on something like she did. If you stop to consider the ramifications, you’ll never do anything.”
“Chapter 2: Born a Crime” Location 360-362


Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says “We’re the same.” A language barrier says “We’re different.”
“Chapter 3: Trevor Pray” Location 750-751


“[…] when I was forced to choose, I chose black. The world saw me as colored, but I didn’t spend my life looking at myself. I spent my life looking at other people. I saw myself as the people around me, and the people around me were black. My cousins are black, my mom is black, my gran is black. I grew up black. Because I had a white father, because I’d been in white Sunday school, I got along with the white kids, but I didn’t belong with the white kids. I wasn’t a part of their tribe. But the black kids embraced me. “Come along,” they said. “You’re rolling with us.” With the black kids, I wasn’t constantly trying to be. With the black kids, I just was.”
Chapter 4: Chameleon — Location 919-924


“[…] a knowledgeable man is a free man, or at least a man who longs for freedom.”
Chapter 4: Chameleon — Location 930-931


“British racism said, ‘If the monkey can walk like a man and talk like a man, then perhaps he is a man.’ Afrikaner racism said, ‘Why give a book to a monkey?'”
Chapter 4: Chameleon — Location 945-946


“So many black families spend all of their time trying to fix the problems of the past. That is the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation. My mother calls it “the black tax.” Because the generations who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero.”
Chapter 5: The Second Girl — Location 997-1000


“Learn from your past and be better because of your past.”
Chapter 5: The Second Girl — Location 1007-1007


As modestly as we lived at home, I never felt poor because our lives were so rich with experience.
Chapter 5: The Second Girl — Location 1112-1113


We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.
Chapter 5: The Second Girl — Location 1126-1127


“[…] remember the thing that caused the trauma, but I don’t hold on to the trauma. I never let the memory of something painful prevent me from trying something new. If you think too much about the ass-kicking your mom gave you, or the ass-kicking that life gave you, you’ll stop pushing the boundaries and breaking the rules. It’s better to take it, spend some time crying, then wake up the next day and move on. You’ll have a few bruises and they’ll remind you of what happened and that’s okay. But after a while the bruises fade, and they fade for a reason—because now it’s time to get up to some shit again.”
Chapter 6: Loopholes — Location 1388-1392


Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.
Chapter 8: Robert — Location 1636-1637


You’re having sex with a woman in her mind before you’re having sex with her in her vagina.
Chapter 9: The Mulberry Tree — Location 1853-1854


[…] foreplay begins during the day. It doesn’t begin in the bedroom.
Chapter 9: The Mulberry Tree — Location 1854-1855


I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t an outcast. I was everywhere with everybody, and at the same time I was all by myself.
Chapter 11: Outsider — Location 2016-2017


I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to.
Chapter 11: Outsider — Location 2021-2024


In Germany, no child finishes high school without learning about the Holocaust. Not just the facts of it but the how and the why and the gravity of it—what it means. As a result, Germans grow up appropriately aware and apologetic. British schools treat colonialism the same way, to an extent. Their children are taught the history of the Empire with a kind of disclaimer hanging over the whole thing. “Well, that was shameful, now wasn’t it?” In South Africa, the atrocities of apartheid have never been taught that way. We weren’t taught judgment or shame. We were taught history the way it’s taught in America. In America, the history of racism is taught like this: “There was slavery and then there was Jim Crow and then there was Martin Luther King Jr. and now it’s done.” It was the same for us. “Apartheid was bad. Nelson Mandela was freed. Let’s move on.” Facts, but not many, and never the emotional or moral dimension. It was as if the teachers, many of whom were white, had been given a mandate. “Whatever you do, don’t make the kids angry.”
Chapter 14: A Young Man’s Long, Awkward, Occasionally Tragic, and Frequently Humiliating Education in Affairs of the Hearty, Pat III: The Dance — Location 2555-2563


People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.
Chapter 15: Go Hitler! — Location 2655-2657


People say, “Oh, that’s a handout.” No. I still have to work to profit by it.
Chapter 15: Go Hitler! — Location 2659-2659


He has been given more potential, but he has not been given more opportunity. He has been given an awareness of the world that is out there, but he has not been given the means to reach it.
Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys — Location 2909


We like to believe we live in a world of good guys and bad guys, and in the suburbs it’s easy to believe that, because getting to know a career criminal in the suburbs is a difficult thing. But then you go to the hood and you see there are so many shades in between. In the hood, gangsters were your friends and neighbors. You knew them. You talked to them on the corner, saw them at parties. They were a part of your world. You knew them from before they became gangsters. It wasn’t, “Hey, that’s a crack dealer.” It was, “Oh, little Jimmy’s selling crack now.”
Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys — Location 2909


When you’re trying to stretch your money, food is where you have to be careful. You have to plan or you’ll eat your profits.
Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys — Location 3006-3007


The biggest thing in the hood is that you have to share. You can’t get rich on your own. You have money? Why aren’t you helping people? The old lady on the block needs help, everyone pitches in. You’re buying beer, you buy beer for everyone. You spread it around. Everyone must know that your success benefits the community in one way or another, or you become a target.
Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys — Location 3092-3096


[…] comfort can be dangerous. Comfort provides a floor but also a ceiling.
Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys — Location 3100-3100


Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, “I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.”
Chapter 17: The World Doesn’t Love You — Location 3372-3375


The way my mother always explained it, the traditional man wants a woman to be subservient, but he never falls in love with subservient women. He’s attracted to independent women. “He’s like an exotic bird collector,” she said. “He only wants a woman who is free because his dream is to put her in a cage.”
Chapter 18: My Mother’s Life — Location 3626-3629


Love is a creative act. When you love someone you create a new world for them. My mother did that for me, and with the progress I made and the things I learned, I came back and created a new world and a new understanding for her.
Chapter 18: My Mother’s Life — Location 3782


Growing up in a home of abuse, you struggle with the notion that you can love a person you hate, or hate a person you love. It’s a strange feeling. You want to live in a world where someone is good or bad, where you either hate them or love them, but that’s not how people are.
Chapter 18: My Mother’s Life — Location 3847


My cry was not a cry of sadness. It was not catharsis. It wasn’t me feeling sorry for myself. It was an expression of raw pain that came from an inability of my body to express that pain in any other way, shape, or form.
Chapter 18: My Mother’s Life — Location 3996


The Rest

“For a long time I didn’t understand why so many black people had abandoned their indigenous faith for Christianity. But the more we went to church and the longer I sat in those pews the more I learned about how Christianity works: If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.”
“Chapter 1: Run” Location 109-112


“In America you had the forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.”
“Chapter 2: Born a Crime” Location 332-334


I wasn’t a lonely kid—I was good at being alone. I’d read books, play with the toy that I had, make up imaginary worlds. I lived inside my head. I still live inside my head. To this day you can leave me alone for hours and I’m perfectly happy entertaining myself. I have to remember to be with people.
“Chapter 2: Born a Crime” Location 490-492


“When you strike a woman, you strike a rock.” As a nation, we recognized the power of women, but in the home they were expected to submit and obey.
“Chapter 3: Trevor Pray” Location 587-589


In America the dream is to make it out of the ghetto. In Soweto, because there was no leaving the ghetto, the dream was to transform the ghetto.
“Chapter 3: Trevor Pray” Location 618-619


Growing up the way I did, I learned how easy it is for white people to get comfortable with a system that awards them all the perks.
“Chapter 4: Chameleon” Location 792-793


[…] it is useful to know the language of your oppressor.
“Chapter 4: Chameleon” Location 833-833


“[…] language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.”
“Chapter 4: Chameleon” Location 853-855


Maybe I didn’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you.
“Chapter 4: Chameleon” Location 856-857


Racism exists. People are getting hurt, and just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And at some point, you have to choose. Black or white. Pick a side. You can try to hide from it. You can say, “Oh, I don’t pick sides,” but at some point life will force you to pick a side.
“Chapter 4: Chameleon” Location 868-871


Before that day, I had never seen people being together and yet not together, occupying the same space yet choosing not to associate with each other in any way. In an instant I could see, I could feel, how the boundaries were drawn. Groups moved in color patterns across the yard, up the stairs, down the hall. It was insane. I looked over at the white kids I’d met that morning. Ten minutes earlier I’d thought I was at a school where they were a majority. Now I realized how few of them there actually were compared to everyone else.
“Chapter 4: Chameleon” Location 881-885


I decided I’d rather be held back with people I liked than move ahead with people I didn’t know.
“Chapter 4: Chameleon” Location 917-918


I chose to have you because I wanted something to love and something that would love me unconditionally in return.” I was a product of her search for belonging. She never felt like she belonged anywhere. She didn’t belong to her mother, didn’t belong to her father, didn’t belong with her siblings. She grew up with nothing and wanted something to call her own.
“Chapter 5: The Second Girl” Location 952-955


My mom’s attitude was “I chose you, kid. I brought you into this world, and I’m going to give you everything I never had.”
“Chapter 5: The Second Girl” Location 1084-1085


Food, or the access to food, was always the measure of how good or bad things were going.
“Chapter 5: The Second Girl” Location 1090-1091


My mom would always say, “My job is to feed your body, feed your spirit, and feed your mind.”
“Chapter 5: The Second Girl” Location 1091-1092


“[Trevor’s Mom] even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.”
Chapter 5: The Second Girl” Location 1140-1141


“It’s not about knowing who you are. It’s about him knowing who you are, and you knowing who he is. Too many men grow up without their fathers, so they spend their lives with a false impression of who their father is and what a father should be. You need to find your father. You need to show him what you’ve become. You need to finish that story.”
“Chapter 7: Fufi” Location 1513-1516


“When a parent is absent, you’re left in the lurch of not knowing, and it’s so easy to fill that space with negative thoughts. “They don’t care.” “They’re selfish.” My one saving grace was that my mom never spoke ill of him. She would always compliment him. “You’re good with your money. You get that from your dad.” “You have your dad’s smile.” “You’re clean and tidy like your father.” I never turned to bitterness, because she made sure I knew his absence was because of circumstance and not a lack of love.”
“Chapter 8: Robert” Location 1598-1602


What I wanted was a relationship, and an interview is not a relationship. Relationships are built in the silences. You spend time with people, you observe them and interact with them, and you come to know them—and that is what apartheid stole from us: time. You can’t make up for that with an interview, but I had to figure that out for myself.
“Chapter 8: Robert” Location 1639-1642


People are willing to accept you if they see you as an outsider trying to assimilate into their world. But when they see you as a fellow tribe member attempting to disavow the tribe, that is something they will never forgive.
“Chapter 9: The Mulberry Tree” Location 1694-1696


[…] man is not determined by how much he earns. You can still be the man of the house and earn less than your woman. Being a man is not what you have, it’s who you are. Being more of a man doesn’t mean your woman has to be less than you.”
“Chapter 9: The Mulberry Tree” Location 1842-1844


“[…] make sure your woman is the woman in your life. Don’t be one of these men who makes his wife compete with his mother. A man with a wife cannot be beholden to his mother.”
“Chapter 9: The Mulberry Tree” Location 1844-1846


You look at me. You acknowledge me. Show me that I exist to you, because the way you treat me is the way you will treat your woman. Women like to be noticed. Come and acknowledge me and let me know that you see me. Don’t just see me when you need something.
“Chapter 9: The Mulberry Tree” Location 1847-1849


I learned a valuable lesson about dating. What I learned was that cool guys get girls, and funny guys get to hang out with the cool guys with their girls. I was not a cool guy; therefore I did not have girls. I understood that formula very quickly and I knew my place. I didn’t ask girls out. I didn’t have a girlfriend. I didn’t even try.
“Chapter 12: A Young Man’s Long, Awkward, Occasionally Tragic, and Frequently Humilating Education in Affairs of the Heart, Part II: The Crush” Location 2043-2046


Dating girls may have been out of the question for me, but talking to them was not, because I could make them laugh. Human beings like to laugh, and lucky for me pretty girls are human beings. So I could relate to them in that way, but never in the other way. I knew this because whenever they stopped laughing at my jokes and stories they’d say, “So how do you think I can get Daniel to ask me out?” I always had a clear idea of where I stood.
“Chapter 12: A Young Man’s Long, Awkward, Occasionally Tragic, and Frequently Humilating Education in Affairs of the Heart, Part II: The Crush” Location 2059-2062


I’d been so convinced I’d never get a date that I never tried to look nice for a girl, so I didn’t know that I could.
“Chapter 12: A Young Man’s Long, Awkward, Occasionally Tragic, and Frequently Humilating Education in Affairs of the Heart, Part III: The Dance” Location 2435-2436


The first thing I learned about having money was that it gives you choices. People don’t want to be rich. They want to be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money.
“Chapter 15: Go Hitler!” Location 2619-2621


I had a natural talent for selling to people, but without knowledge and resources, where was that going to get me? People always lecture the poor: “Take responsibility for yourself! Make something of yourself!” But with what raw materials are the poor to make something of themselves?
“Chapter 15: Go Hitler!” Location 2652-2655


Every country thinks their history is the most important, and that’s especially true in the West. But if black South Africans could go back in time and kill one person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler. If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium’s King Leopold would come way before Hitler. If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person, it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson.
“Chapter 15: Go Hitler!” Location 2739-2742


The thing Africans don’t have that Jewish people do have is documentation. The Nazis kept meticulous records, took pictures, made films. And that’s really what it comes down to. Holocaust victims count because Hitler counted them. Six million people killed. We can all look at that number and rightly be horrified. But when you read through the history of atrocities against Africans, there are no numbers, only guesses. It’s harder to be horrified by a guess.
“Chapter 15: Go Hitler!” Location 2743-2747


The hood made me realize that crime succeeds because crime does the one thing the government doesn’t do: crime cares. Crime is grassroots. Crime looks for the young kids who need support and a lifting hand. Crime offers internship programs and summer jobs and opportunities for advancement. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn’t discriminate.
“Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys” Location 2929


It’s easy to be judgmental about crime when you live in a world wealthy enough to be removed from it. But the hood taught me that everyone has different notions of right and wrong, different definitions of what constitutes crime, and what level of crime they’re willing to participate in.
“Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys” Location 2988-2990


Hustling is to work what surfing the Internet is to reading. If you add up how much you read in a year on the Internet—tweets, Facebook posts, lists—you’ve read the equivalent of a shit ton of books, but in fact you’ve read no books in a year. When I look back on it, that’s what hustling was. It’s maximal effort put into minimal gain. It’s a hamster wheel.
“Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys” Location 3074-3076


The tricky thing about the hood is that you’re always working, working, working, and you feel like something’s happening, but really nothing’s happening at all.
“Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys” Location 3068-3069


The hood has a gravitational pull. It never leaves you behind, but it also never lets you leave. Because by making the choice to leave, you’re insulting the place that raised you and made you and never turned you away. And that place fights you back.
“Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys” Location 3109-3111


As soon as things start going well for you in the hood, it’s time to go. Because the hood will drag you back in. It will find a way. There will be a guy who steals a thing and puts it in your car and the cops find it— something. You can’t stay. You think you can. You’ll start doing better and you’ll bring your hood friends out to a nice club, and the next thing you know somebody starts a fight and one of your friends pulls a gun and somebody’s getting shot and you’re left standing around going, “What just happened?” The hood happened.
“Chapter 16: The Cheese Boys” Location 3111-3116


[…] if you think someone is a monster and the whole world says he’s a saint, you begin to think that you’re the bad person. It must be my fault this is happening is the only conclusion you can draw, because why are you the only one receiving his wrath?
“Chapter 18: My Mother’s Life” Location 3545-3548


People say all the time that they’d do anything for the people they love. But would you really? Would you do anything? Would you give everything? I don’t know that a child knows that kind of selfless love. A mother, yes. A mother will clutch her children and jump from a moving car to keep them from harm. She will do it without thinking. But I don’t think the child knows how to do that, not instinctively. It’s something the child has to learn.
Chapter 18: My Mother’s Life” Location 4086

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Author: Amari Sali

New Jersey native Amari Sali takes the approach of more so being a media advisor than a critic to sort of fill in the gap left between casual fans of media and those who review productions for a living. Thus being open about bias while still giving enough insight, often with spoilers, to present whether something is worth seeing, buying, renting, streaming, or checking out at all. An avid writer, Amari hopes to eventually switch from talking about other people's productions to fully working on his own. Such a dream is in progress to becoming reality.

5 thoughts on “Collected Quotes: Born a Crime – Stories from a South African Childhood

    1. I read this on a ebook and while locations aren’t the most accurate, it helps when going through a chapter. Unfortunately, there weren’t page numbers available when I read this.

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