Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why #firstworldproblems and Stuff White People Like are Racist (But Not For Stupid Reasons)

This post stems from a recent facebook post I made. I was complaining that Migration Assistant did a crappy job transferring my files from my old desktop to my shiny new one. While others chimed in with their own tales of migration assistance woe, one friend mocked me by posting "first world problems." In fairness to her, she was just trying to rib me and wasn't really trying to make any larger sociopolitical point, but it's one of my great pet peeves, so here goes the rant.

Besides the obvious ethnocentric and racist implications of using terms like "first" and "third" world to describe differing nations, the implication of #firstworldproblems (I don't know where the phrase first came from, but I mostly know it as a twitter hash tag, hence the douchey way of writing it) is that there are some things only people in wealthy nations would complain about, like problems with their computers. But the problem with this is that it makes so many horrible assumptions about the rest of the world.

In a post I'm not going to bother trying to find, one of the contributors at Soc Images was discussing the challenge of teaching about contemporary Africa and mentioned needing to remind students that its 2012 in Africa, too. Meaning technology and various scientific advancements all exist there as well, albeit sometimes not as widely spread (though in some surprising ways, sometimes the latest technology is more widespread in so-called "third world" nations). I use this line is discussing the Middle East to my students as well, and I immediately thought about it when the comment came along on facebook.

Because you know what happens when one of my friends in Iraq has a problem with their computer? Well, it turns out they don't calmly say "well, given the widespread unemployment and the infrastructure of my nation being under-developed and in some places nonexistent, I can't complain about my computer freezing up." No, they swear and hit the thing, just like anyone else would. Because even though it's a poor nation still experiencing an occupation and a civil war, computers exist there. And when they don't work well, people get annoyed by them. Because it's a pretty human reaction to be annoyed when your computer doesn't work, regardless of the GDP of the nation you live in. To say otherwise is to essentially say "Oh, those poor savages must be so happy to have a magical wonder box that they couldn't possibly be upset by it not working correctly."

The same goes for the Stuff White People Like bullshit, which is really just an extension of the old "white people can't do [blank]" saying (could be dancing, jumping, having rhythm, etc.). This isn't racist because it's making fun of white people (though I'm sure Rush Limbaugh can do a great job of explaining how this shows white people are the true victims of racism), but because it implies a comparison. For instance, if you say white people can't dance, it necessarily implies a comparison to another racial group that can dance. It's really just the flip side of saying all black people naturally have rhythm, and I hope I don't have to explain the racist legacy of that.

And if you peruse the stuff white people like (please only do so if you like obvious jokes or having aneurysms from reading really stupid websites), you'll notice most of the stuff white people like is nerdy stuff. Because white people aren't cool, not like those magical negroes who are naturally cool because they have so much soul. Not to mention an integral part of being a nerd is being booksmart, which is obviously something only white people can be, because they're the only ones capable of being smart...anyway, hopefully you can see how that line of logic gets pretty fucking racist pretty quickly.

So what these expressions (and the others ones like them) are is really just a slightly more clever way of updating the old racist tropes about animalistic people of color being cooler and more soulful than boring old white people who do nothing but be smart and successful in business and whatnot. And while on the surface it appears the joke is on white people, you can really only read it that way if you view being called the dominant social group in the world an insult...


Anonymous said...

Unassailable logic. Anyone who thinks that black people are intrinsically interesting, passionate, or charismatic is secretly putting them down as inferior and "animalistic."

In how sad of a state is academia in your joke of a field that you were able to land a tenure-track position (the joke of a school at which it happens to be notwithstanding)?

Woz said...

Ok, Dima, I was going to just quit responding to you, but here I am.

To your point, yes, assuming *anything* about an entire group of people solely because of the tint of their skin takes is racist, regardless of whether you think it is positive or not. Besides, it makes no sense, in the way all racist assumptions make more sense -- so is a bi-racial person half as cool? What about someone with one black grandparent and three white grandparents -- would that make them, what, one-quarter as "interesting" or "charismatic" as black people, or would that make them one-quarter more interesting than white people?

Finally, please go ahead and quit reading my blog, or at least commenting on it. Yes, we disagreed about a union election. That was several months ago. You're just making yourself look really sad and childish by not being able to give it up. Seriously man, get out of the house, get some hobbies, and make friends with some people who view the world like you do. Then you can do your thing and I can do my thing and we'll both be happy.

Oh, and some sort of ad hominem attack on you (sorry, I don't obsessively follow your life, so I don't know anything about you to insult you with)

Woz said...

Whoops. Should read "makes no sense, in the way all racist assumptions make /no/ sense"

Anonymous said...

Close, but no cigar.

Doug said...

Pedantic time here: The #firstworldproblems tag is supposed to be for a very specific type of joke, which was generalized by the clueless.

"My computer doesn't work well" is not an example of that joke.

"I'm angry that my Brita filter joke - my already potable water is no longer even more potable." is an example of that joke.

"My girlfriend left me" is not an example of that joke.

"I don't want to eat any more today, but if I don't finish that box of cereal, my new box will not fit in the cabinet." is an example of that joke.

I don't think that affects your argument 100%, but it is still relevant.

Anyway, I'm out. I have to go back to having sex with Dima's mom.

Brenda said...

Booo don't troll my Woz. Only cool people like me can troll Woz!!! :-D I've learned through experience that the best thing to do when a friend is already irritated is to make a comment that will irritate them to the point of blind rage. ;-) Keep engaging, keep educating. The world needs more people like you.

Z said...

Wow, is that really Dima!? You are still stalking union people online? Man, what a tiny little weenie you are. You're like a contrarian little egghead in the second grade that uses intellect to try and feel superior to other kids, only now people are adults and generally pretty intelligent, so you pathetically comb the internet searching for any fallacy in a statement that you can point out: "My discipline is better than yours, Jesse! Evidence! Evidence!" I sincerely hope whatever intellectual contribution you make to the world outweighs the damage done by your political worldview and terrible personality. And I expect you to develop a methodology so we can precisely and uneqivocally quantify all of these very important comments you make.

Anonymous said...

You all are all very stupid...being racist I in your ideology...thinking that no African American can surpass your "intellect." First of all look at your spelling. Just to let you know there are to kind of Blacks the Americans and the Africans who are bold enough to say this to you. Do before you open up your dirty mouths to say shit to people think twice.

Anonymous said...

I think that saying first world problems is like saying 'oh it's a hard life ins't it' in a really sarcastic manner. It is accepting your privilege. I too have trouble with the phrase 'first world', but I think the #firstworldproblem phenomena is mostly fine. Like my friend said 'shit, i forgot about the darjeeling', and another 'i wish I had an actual, dedicated cheese knife'. More often I think it is people saying 'these aren't real problems', and while not everyone in developing nations are in extreme poverty or experiencing extreme troubles it is not an exaggeration to say a lot are. Just like iot might be that people in the "first" world may also be in extreme poverty. I think the phrase is just a new version of saying 'it's a hard life', it is just saying yes this is a problem but not a big one, not a real one.