Trevor Noah used his stage time at the Oscars to honor his South African roots – and to poke a little healthy fun at white people while he was at it.
The Daily Show host shared a Xhosa proverb while introducing Best Picture nominee Black Panther. Except that it wasn’t an inspirational quote, but Noah saying, “White people don’t know I’m lying.”
“Growing up as a young boy in Wakanda, I would see King T’Challa flying over our village,” Noah joked. “And he would remind me of a great Xhosa phrase.”
It turns out the next part was also a joke; Noah spoke in Xhosa and then translated his words to “In times like these, we are stronger when we fight together than when we try to fight apart.”
South African viewers and news outlets including BBC Africa were quick to catch that “abelungu abazi ubu ndiyaxoka” actually means “white people don’t know I’m lying,” a massive inside joke for all Xhosa speakers and nod to Noah’s roots.
The false translation received applause at the Oscar ceremony for an admirable sentiment, but his quiet subversion illustrates that advocating unity on a surface level isn’t enough. This particular idea is a major criticism of Best Picture winner Green Book, whose producers have accepted every major award by emphasizing that we’re all people who are more similar than different.
Noah’s words show that if we truly want to fight together for equality, then we must know and understand each other and fight in earnest – not just clap and smile at the mere idea of it.