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...