Trevor Noah and Teddy: Shoplifting Best Friends

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Teddy in Trevor Noah’s memoir Born a Crime? And what can the story of Trevor Noah, Teddy, and the shoplifting bust tell us about the judgments we make based on skin color?

Teddy was one of Trevor Noah’s childhood best friends. The construct of black versus white blinds people to anyone who doesn’t fit those molds. If you don’t identify as black or white, others’ failure to see you can leave you feeling invisible and inconsequential. But occasionally, this can work to your advantage. Learn how Trevor Noah let his invisibility work for him.

Trevor Noah & Teddy: Two Peas in a Pod

When Noah was an adolescent, he moved with his mother Patricia into a white suburban neighborhood called Highland North. Highland North was mostly working-class or middle-class Jews. As the only black kid there, Noah once again stood out. Noah soon found that the best way to make friends in the white neighborhood was to befriend the children of the help. Servants who lived in backyard quarters of their white employees could keep their children with them. These kids became Noah’s only friends.

One of these friends was a boy named Teddy, who went to Noah’s high school. Teddy’s mother was a domestic worker in a white neighborhood a few miles away.

Trevor Noah and Teddy were fast friends and became inseparable. Teddy also had a penchant for mischief, and Noah finally felt normal for the first time. Together, they walked all over Johannesburg getting into trouble. 

One of their frequent excursions was to the local mall on Friday and Saturday nights. They’d wander around because they couldn’t afford to buy anything. The mall had a movie theater and would stay open late, even after the stores were closed.

One night, Teddy and Noah discovered they could stick their arms through the gate of one of the stores and steal chocolates filled with alcohol. Stealing these chocolates became the routine. For weeks, they’d reach in, grab some chocolates, drink the contents, and go back for more. 

Trevor Noah & Teddy: Caught in the Act

One night, a security guard caught Noah with his arm through the gate. Both boys took off running, and a chase ensued through the mall and into the parking lot. Noah was scared but exhilarated. But after he and Teddy busted through the lot and into Noah’s neighborhood, he stopped being afraid. Having no friends and spending all that time alone, Noah had wandered every inch of his neighborhood. He knew where the best hiding spots and shortcuts were.

One of these shortcuts was a small hole in a fence at the end of a dead-end road. Not many people knew about it. Noah headed toward the dead end, calling for Teddy to follow. But this wasn’t Teddy’s neighborhood, and he thought going into the dead-end would leave them trapped. Teddy went a different direction, and Noah snuck through the hole and lost the cops. 

When Noah got home, he waited for Teddy to show up, but he never did. He went to Teddy’s house. Teddy wasn’t there. Teddy wasn’t at school on Monday either.

Teddy’s parents finally came over to Noah’s house and told him and Patricia that Teddy had been arrested for shoplifting. Patricia knew right away that Noah was somehow involved. But Teddy had covered for Noah and said he wasn’t with him. Noah thought he was safe.

Trevor Noah: Hiding in Plain Sight

The next day at school, Noah was called into the principal’s office, where police officers and mall security were waiting. Teddy had been arrested and expelled, and they asked Noah if he knew who Teddy had been with that night. Noah denied any knowledge, but when they pulled out the security feed, he thought he was cooked.

The video was black and white and showed Noah and Teddy reaching through the gate and running through the mall. The security officers froze the video on a picture of Noah and Teddy at the entrance. Noah swallowed, seeing his likeness smack dab in the middle of the screen. What he didn’t expect was to be questioned about who the other guy with Teddy was.

Because of the black and white footage, Noah’s skin looked washed out compared with Teddy’s dark skin. The cops were looking for a white kid. Noah couldn’t believe it. How could they not suspect him? He was Teddy’s best friend. He was a known troublemaker. The math was good. 

Noah saw how the construct of black versus white built during apartheid had blinded all of them to the fact that the person in the video could be mixed. At one point, Noah almost confessed just to stop feeling so inconsequential. But he didn’t. He got away with it.

Trevor Noah and Teddy: Shoplifting Best Friends

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Here's what you'll find in our full Born a Crime summary:

  • Why Trevor Noah's birth was an illegal crime
  • How Trevor's single mother was the beacon of strength in his life
  • How Trevor ultimately broke out and achieved success
Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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