Trevor Noah was born in an appartheid South Africa from a white father and a Xhosa mother in 1986, which is more explained in his memoires Born a crime.
He has become a successful artist and entrepreneur in the US and is having a huge impact for the balck community in the US, in South Africa and all around the world.
How can his story relate and tell the one from the African diaspora?
Let’s examine 3 aspects of his life and the one from the African diaspora. Of courses the list can go further.
1. 2 worlds, 1 body
This one hits home for me. It’s even worse for me because it’s 3 worlds for me.
I was born and raised in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa. Yet my parents emigrated from Guinea, Conakry. To be precise, we are from a village Korbé, in the middle of Fouta Djalon. This region is called Middle Guinea, if that was not a sign that I would be the meat in the sandwich.
I spent my early years in our village, mostly with my mother. Then when it was time to go to school, we came to Dakar, Senegal. By that time, I was 6 years old. I came to Dakar, not speaking Wolof at all.
To put things in perspective, Senegal’s official language is French, because, you know, colonisation.
However Wolof is the unofficial language spoken by everybody on the streets, no matter your ethnical group and language.
I remember the other pupils making fun of me because I did not speak Wolof. And it was beyond that. While growing up in Dakar, I was a Pular, and we were called names. One of them was “Ndering”, which is basically our “N” word.
I eventually felt as a Senegalese and Dakar is my home. I remember when I went on holidays in Korbe to visit my grandparents, I was considered a stranger because my Pular was not original in Guinea. They also would label me as a stranger in Guinea.
Today I am living in Toulouse, France and I happen to have the French nationality also. I am married to a white French woman and our son Noah will grow mostly in this environment.
Sometimes I feel that I am kind of a stranger in France.
Well you get the drill.
My story as an African living abroad is not unique. We are millions outside of the continent, first generations, second or third with Africa in our hearts and skin.
We are a mixed race like Trevor Noah and we also have mixed feelings about where we really belong. We might be labelled as a stranger or an immigrant in the West and a “toubab”, an “white walker” by our family and friends in our origin countries in Africa.
Lot of us fall into the trap of not fully embracing our life outside of Africa. Indeed we will spend all our lives in Europe, physically, to earn money and support our families back in Africa. However our minds are in Africa with the illusion that one day, we will go back and live in Africa.
Of courses, some of us will find the courage and the drive to go back to their motherland. For the rest of us, and we are legion, we will spend our life in Europe, the US for so many reasons (personal or professional).
We are the white walkers, drifting away, wandering our minds in the magic land of eternal return and not taking full advantage of all the opportunities we have in Europe or the US.
This is where Trevor Noah can be an example to follow: work hard and fulfill your potential wherever you are because that’s home for you, now.
2. Scarcity Mindset
Trevor Noah grew up in an appartheid environment in the townships of South Africa. Surrounded by violence in the streets, and with a family with low income, he has to learn how to do more with less.
Today living in the US, this scarcity mindset, in an abundant environment, has demultiplied his projects and his impact both domestically in the US and outside. He’s doing his talk shows, Netflix Specials, being the New York times best selling author and having his own production company.
I came to France in 2000, in Perpignan, with a scholarship from the Senegalese government. I have lived by that scholarship until the end of my studies in 2008.
It was enough to provide me with money to pay for my bills and live decently. Fortunately in France, I did not have to pay for my studies. I just had to pay a reasonable fee at the beginning of the year and that’s it. Education here is free, or at least, not as costly as in the US for example. Yet I had to work during summer holidays to save some money for the rest of the year. And during my engineering studies, I had to make a loan to buy a computer and other material to be in the same levels as my other peers.
From 2000 to 2008, I lived in a 9 m2 room either in boarding school in Perpignan, or in Engineering school in Toulouse, France.
And I am part of the happy few foreign Senegalese students in France. Most of the Sengalese or African students doing studies in France have to work and study at the same time.
Lot of them will wake up at 4 am and go to work from 5 am to 7 am, doing cleaning activities, sometimes in the same university where they study. After they go to school at 8 am. They will have their “normal” day as their French peers.
Some of them have to both pay for their studies and support their family back home at the same time.
Most of the African diaspora grew in an environment where scarcity was the norm. When arriving in Europe or the US, they still were having some constraints. The result of such a path is the development of a scarcity mindset, which can be an asset to the African diaspora.
Indeed being able to do more with less is one of the key skills that the world will need, in the post Coronavirus era.
However we African diaspora is trapped both in the West and back home in Africa, despite this wonderful scarcity mindset.
Indeed in the West, most of the time, nobody is aware about their struggle. Hence if they manage to land a job in companies in Europe or the US, they are seen as “regular” as their peers, who had a leg start. After all, if they are where they are, it’s not so hard, this is what can be heard in the corridors of corporations.
In their home country, they are seen as “white” inside, as strangers who do no more understand the reality of Africa. And most of us, just go for holidays to visit our family and then we come back to Europe and the US. We are not given the opportunity to voice our concerns about where our country is going and we are not always asked about how we can contribute.
As Trevor Noah, we must be afraid to embrace both our blackness and our whiteness and raise our voice in our domestic country and in our African home country.
3. Untapped potential
When he was picked to replace Jon Stuart, Trevor Noah was just one immigrant on the Daily Show. Looking at what he is today, Comedy Central has fully tapped into his potential. And the world thanks them for helping Trevor become a true leader and inspiration to the world.
In High School at “Lycée Lamine Gueye ‘’ in Dakar, I remember my first class of philosophy. I remember our teacher talking about the importance of reasoning and always challenging the status quo.
In a nutshell, the allegory of the cave in our context is about an African, leaving the cave, travelling the world. Each time he comes back, nobody listens to what he has to say.
Then he goes back to his cave in the West, and there also, he’s silenced because he’s not from that cave either. He ends up wandering between those two caves his whole life. He will never be able to reach his full potential because he was not given the opportunity. Yet he has so much to offer to both worlds because he’s the best ferryman those two will never have.
In most of African countries, the big corporations from the West and the East do not trust Africans to lead their business there. ANd they are not helped by the local authorities and people in power, who will always take the money and look the other way. Of course this might sound like a cliché. However I have seen a lot of people working in Europe, being frustrated that they cannot fulfill their potential. They abandon everything with the hope of starting over, back in their home country, in Africa.
Sooner or later, they find themselves being just another fish, swimming against the current, in another fishbowl. Those who have the opportunity to come back to the West will do it, eventually. Those who stay embrace the system as a Stocholm syndrome and after a long period, they are overwhelmed by the system they wanted to change at the first time.
Welcome home , brother!
In the West, no matter how skilled you are, you will have to battle two forces.
The first one is the one of higher standards. As an African from the diaspora, you will have, by default, to work at least twice as much as your peers at the same level. This is not the racist card. This is the unconscious bias card.
An implicit bias/unconscious bias, or implicit stereotype, is the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group.
The second battle is the one of higher expectations. One obvious easy example is to see how Barack Obama was held to higher standards, compared to Donald Trump.
The example that resonates more with me is the one of Tidjane Thiam, former CEO of Crédit Suisse, one of the biggest banks in the world.
Not only has he had to reduce his pay after a shareholder backlash, he was also fired from the company over some alleged surveillance on his neighbour. And he left the company.
We have heard a lot of stories of people in power both in Europe and the US that misbehaved, even allegedly, who did not pay such a high price with their career. I guess they are innocent until proven guilty. And for the African diaspora, it feels quite the opposite.
For the African diaspora, the battle to fulfill our potential is in two fronts simultaneously.
In our mainland, in the West, we always have to prove that we are worth it if we are ready to pay at least double the price as our peers are paying.
In our country of origin, in Africa, we still need to gain the trust of our sisters and brothers in power. We need to convince them that we are not here to steal their power and wealth. We have to make our voice heard and challenge the status quo, without being flagged as whitewashed. Indeed we have a lot to offer to serve our country of origin.
This picture might seem dark. Yet it is just my vision. I believe that to see, we have to first open our eyes. Then to have a vision, a compelling future, we have to open our minds.
I hereby, call all the African diaspora, to be proud of being the ferry people between those two worlds.
We have our role to play in building the future of Africa, because, after all, we all are proud of the black blood running through our veins.
We all have a Travor Noah inside us, just waiting. Let’s wake him up and give him the voice so that he can be our vessel to Africa, the real Wakanda!
How do you see the African diaspora?
Do you think that the African diaspora has a role to play in the future of the continent?
What can we do to help the diaspora contribute to Africa and to the world?
Leave a comment below.
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You can read my previous article on What are the 6 steps that will lead Africa from Independence to Autonomy?