My mom constantly brings up struggles that people living in impoverished conditions face in order to make the people around her, and herself, feel more grateful for what they and she has. “Whenever you think you have it bad, just think about the people who walk bare foot in carrying heavy logs on their heads in [insert 3rd world country/continent named here]. It really puts things in perspective.” That reminds me of the aphorism parents say, “There’s people starving in Africa, you better finish your food.” My mom (and other people) uses “third world problems” to make her feel better and rid herself of white guilt. It helps her cope with her own “first world problems.”
In reality, one of those poor people could be totally happy with what they have. People who live in a “first world country” mainly places in North America and Western Europe, assume that all people want to have an “American” or “westernized” lifestyle. Those people, including me sometimes, think that “our way” is the only lifestyle fit for human beings. Any place else is subpar because it’s disease ridden, impoverished, and “under developed.” In reality no life style is better or worse. If an individual in an impoverished place does want to change their life and become more westernized, then that is an individual speaking for them self, not for the collective. You can’t generalize a continent and say, “that’s just the way Africa/South America/Asia is.” Yes, money does equal security, but not necessarily happiness. In addition, just because they “don’t know any better” doesn’t mean that they’re ignorant to what they “could have.” If I said, “Maybe those people who do still live in villages are happy with what they have” a common retort is “well, they don’t know any better. They’re ignorant to their own position in society.” This is not true for everyone. Maybe some people are blissfully ignorant, but others know that maybe they could trade what they have for a more “modern” lifestyle, but they actively don’t want to because they’re happy with what they have. You could be a millionaire in the U.S. and be unhappy.
Because of cultural imperialism many countries are forced look at U.S. pop culture, food companies, clothing and car companies, but they would not necessarily trade their whole life to live in the U.S. Yes, that is the aspiration of some, but again, not all. Don't use other people's struggles to make yourself feel better because you're just blinding yourself of your privilege. It’s easy to think that everyone wants to be like the U.S. because U.S. cultural imperialism is so invasive. But the people in other countries didn’t ask for Coke to take over their country. We deemed it best for ourselves financially, when in reality, we don’t even like these companies in the U.S. In addition, just because an image is repeated over and over, doesn’t make it true. Just because McDonalds and KFC has taken over “3rd world/uncivilized countries” doesn’t mean that it’s good. Just because in the U.S. we get constantly bombarded with select images of the continent of Africa illustrating, malnutrition, war, and wild animals, doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s not “just the way Africa is.” In the many countries of Africa, there are huge cities, internet, electricity, running water. Stop painting it as “the dark continent.” There are people who still live in subpar conditions, without basic human rights, but there are also people who live in high rise apartments. Get educated before you continue to spread propaganda about the “first” and “third” world.
21 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.