The Problem with the Hashtag #firstworldproblems

March 14, 2014 § 2 Comments

I see the hashtag #firstworldproblems on Twitter a lot. It’s usage is alarmingly frequent.  And it’s used by nearly everyone I follow, from radical lefties to far right conservatives, wealthy and poor. It’s meant to poke fun at the lives we live in Western Europe, Canada, and the United States, how we get upset and annoyed at things like our iPhones taking more than a split second to open an app, or our lattes being a tad too hot to drink right away.

Personally, I’ve never used the hashtag, and it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable seeing it.  This might be because I’ve been thinking about privilege a lot of late, in part because I teach at a college with a lot of working-class, immigrant, and 2nd generation American students.  A lot of my students are the first in their family to go to college.  A lot of them are disadvantaged by their high school educations, their English language skills or what Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb termed “the hidden injuries of class.”  But it also comes from discussions I’ve been involved in of late about misogyny, sexism, racism, etc.

To me, the hashtag #firstworldproblems lacks sensitivity.  Not just to those in the developing world, but to those who live in poverty in Canada, the United States and Western Europe.  Poverty and dislocation are real, fundamental problems.  And, at least from where I sit, #firstworldproblems mocks that, mocks those who aren’t well-off enough in the so-called First World to have these “problems.”  From where I sit, #firstworldproblems is just another example of how we are spoiled by our affluence.

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