"In any society built on institutionalized racism, race-mixing doesn't merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent. Race-mixing proves that races can mix - and in a lot of cases, want to mix. Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race-mixing becomes a crime worse than treason."

This quotation appears at the beginning of Chapter 2, a chapter dedicated to explaining the premise of apartheid and the ways in which the Noah family navigates it. This initial assertion builds upon the framework that the novel’s title establishes by emphasizing the idea that, in a segregated world, existing outside of social constructs like racial categories can have serious consequences. Trevor’s identity as a mixed boy, for example, poses a threat to the very principle of apartheid. He is uncategorizable and therefore proves that the South African government’s practice of racial segregation is completely arbitrary. As a result, he faces unique dangers that other family members and friends do not. The fact that Patricia lies about her baby’s heritage and Trevor cannot appear in public with his father emphasizes the significant extent to which the family must downplay their situation. 

Beyond the legal consequences of being mixed-race, Trevor continually grapples with the pain of being an outsider with no clear group to belong to. This heightened search for identity becomes a key theme throughout the remainder of the novel. While Noah’s mention of different races wanting to mix refers most directly to intimate relationships like his parents’, he experiences a similar version of this phenomenon as he tries to find his place in the world. He goes on to explain in Chapter 4 that he often acts as a chameleon, drawing from different parts of his identity in order to form connections with people from all walks of life. Much like his genetics reflect the futility of apartheid’s segregation, the way in which Trevor navigates among different social groups adds to the sense that people gravitate toward mixing and interacting with others rather than living in isolation. 

"My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do. When I look back I realize she raised me like a white kid - not white culturally, but in the sense of believing that the world was my oyster, that I should speak up for myself, that my ideas and thoughts and decisions mattered."

In Chapter 5, Noah describes his mother’s upbringing, her devotion to providing for him, and the richness he found within their impoverished life, all of which come together in this quotation. Patricia’s own childhood significantly informs the way in which she raises her son, as she grew up wishing for a level of freedom that was unavailable to her as a Black girl under apartheid. With her determined spirit, she looks past the cultural, economic, and familial obstacles she faced and teaches Trevor that he has the power to create a life of freedom for himself. This perspective pushes back against the confining nature of apartheid and, as Noah suggests, has a level of assertiveness more likely to be found among those at the top of the hierarchy. The fact that he credits his mother’s guidance as the reason for his confidence and imagination reveals just how meaningful she is to him, and moments like this one truly celebrate the strength of their bond.

The wide-eyed view of the world that Patricia instills in Trevor as a young child serves as the impetus for many of the key moments throughout the novel, making this quotation particularly reflective of his approach to life. He often speaks up for himself and is confident in the decisions he makes, such as when he asks his school counselor to move him from the A classes to the B classes at eleven years old in Chapter 4. Trevor’s sense of self-assurance also gives him the strength to tell his mother that, at age seventeen, he needs to move away from home to escape his abusive stepfather. Had Patricia raised him to be unassuming and submissive, he would have suffered much like her generation had suffered. Instead, Trevor tackles the world head-on and makes a name for himself, first at his school and then in surrounding neighborhoods. None of these developments would have been possible without the sense of freedom that Patricia instilled in him throughout his childhood.

"What he did, on a small scale, showed me how important it is to empower the dispossessed and the disenfranchised in the wake of oppression. Andrew was white…My family had been denied the things his family had taken for granted. I had a natural talent for selling to people, but without knowledge and resources, where was that going to get me?" 

This quotation comes from Chapter 15 as Noah explains his growing music piracy business and the impact that Andrew, a white boy from his school, has on his success. As he works with Andrew to sell CDs to Black students, Trevor learns about downloading music and running a business. He eventually becomes the recipient of Andrew’s CD writer, an expensive piece of equipment which ultimately enables him to go into business on his own and make a name for himself. As Noah suggests in this quotation, his partnership with Andrew offers a microcosmic look at the impact that reparations can have for historically marginalized groups. Trevor works hard to make his CD business successful, but without the initial guidance and support from someone already equipped with the essential tools, he would not have had a place to start. 

This discussion of the importance of reparations calls back to earlier mentions of what Patricia refers to as “the black tax,” or the idea that impoverished Black families often find themselves stuck in a cycle of struggle. Given the long legacy of racist policies in South Africa, newer generations of Black South Africans must first overcome past wrongs, often without the resources to do so, before they can socially and financially progress at the same rate as their white neighbors. One of Patricia’s greatest fears is that Trevor will succumb to this intergenerational plight, but with the start that Andrew gives him, he ultimately manages to escape the trappings of poverty in a way that she never fully could. The arc of his success story, both in terms of his early career and his escape from “the black tax,” plays out across the course of the novel in a way that emphasizes his relationships with others. Given this trajectory, this quotation serves as a key summation of how crucial support can be for disadvantaged individuals.

"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 a crime, and what level of crime they're willing to participate in."

In Chapter 16, Noah offers this observation about the nature of crime as he explains the day-to-day hustles and schemes that occur in Alexandra, or “the hood.” Extending his CD business into this area opens Trevor’s eyes to how subjective the idea of crime truly is and how widely moral codes can vary. As he conducts business with more and more people in the hood, he becomes a part of the hustle culture there, one which often involves exchanging illegally acquired goods. Given the poverty that runs rampant in Alexandra, however, many people are desperate enough for these items that they willingly overlook how they became available in the first place. This dynamic reflects a connection between economic status and interpretations of crime. While wealthy families have the ability to view crime in a very definitive manner, those from less fortunate backgrounds are privy to the gray area that exists when it comes to defining “right” and “wrong.” 

This idea of seeing or existing within a gray area is one that applies to many of the novel’s central questions. Noah’s refusal to view crime as a binary construct in this moment acts as a call back to the title of the book itself, highlighting the absurdity of the argument that his birth was criminal. Just like the ambiguity that exists when it comes to distinguishing between legal and illegal exchanges in the hood, Noah exposes the arbitrariness of apartheid by contrasting its exacting laws with the gray, uncategorizable nature of his own life. Since definitions and categories are inherently subjective, they cannot fully capture every possible scenario and are therefore rather meaningless. Instead, Noah suggests, each individual must evaluate their own moral code to determine what behaviors and perspectives they are willing to adopt.

"I was nine years old, and I still thought of the police as the good guys. You get in trouble, you call the police, and those flashing red-and-blue lights are going to come and save you. But I remember standing there watching my mom, flabbergasted, horrified that these cops wouldn’t help her. That's when I realized the police were not who I thought they were." 

This quotation comes from Chapter 18 as Noah describes the first time that Abel, in a drunken rage, beats Patricia. Horrified by the violence committed against her and the threat her husband poses to her children, she escapes to the nearest police station and declares that she wants to lay a charge against him. The male police officers, however, refuse to acknowledge her suffering and even blame the dispute on her, an approach which completely shatters Trevor’s idolizing view of them. In this moment, Trevor learns that outward appearances are not necessarily representative of internal character, and this lesson reflects one of the novel’s central arguments about perspective. The binary worldview that Trevor initially holds causes him to identify police officers as inherently good and people like Abel as inherently bad, yet experience proves that the officers fail to fit neatly into a single category and instead exist in a gray area. The idea that the world naturally resists classification is one which pervades the novel, especially as Noah emphasizes the extraordinary nature of his life. 

In addition to serving as an example of the discrepancy between perception and reality, this quotation also highlights the way in which gender impacts power dynamics. While apartheid’s use of race as justification for creating a hierarchical power structure is one of the novel’s primary concerns, Patricia’s story also calls attention to the oppression that patriarchal values create. The police officers in this scenario rely on preconceived notions about women and marriage in order to reinforce their own sense of superiority over Patricia. They maintain a binary view of the power dynamic between men and women because it benefits them, and they fail to see the reality of Patricia’s situation as a result. The gendered aspect of this moment adds yet another layer to the novel’s exploration of the consequences of categorization.