Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drunks

Friday, August 17, 2012

African Problems

Posted by on Fri, Aug 17, 2012 at 8:56 AM


I don’t like this expression ‘First World problems.’ It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.
This was said the Nigerian writer, photographer and art historian Teju Cole. Truer words have not been spoken about the African condition.


Comments (20) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
This reminds me of a wonderful talk by Chimamanda Adichie,…
Posted by REW on August 17, 2012 at 9:22 AM · Report this
yelahneb 2
I definitely hear what he's saying regarding the potential condescension/clueless nature of the phrase, but I would argue it's more often intended to be a bit of self-deprecation on the part of the speaker.

When I complain about something I'm having difficulty with as a "First World Problem", I'm recognizing that objectively, given all the problems that a human on Earth could potentially be having, mine is a relatively minor inconvenience at best - and that I'm humbly aware of how good I have it, all things considered.
Posted by yelahneb on August 17, 2012 at 9:28 AM · Report this
+1 @2. Maybe those are first world problems regardless of where they occur.
Posted by pox on August 17, 2012 at 9:35 AM · Report this
Dexter 4
What @2 said. Also, the implication is that our "first world problems" are our only problems. We don't struggle with infant mortality, or worry about water quality, or suffer from and die with debilitating pain because morphine isn't available.
Posted by Dexter on August 17, 2012 at 9:42 AM · Report this
care bear 5
@4 Actually the US has a pretty bad infant mortality rate compared to other "first world" countries.

I hate the phrase. It has always annoyed me. And my boyfriend uses it to make fun of me.
Posted by care bear on August 17, 2012 at 9:51 AM · Report this
Fnarf 6
It's true. Many westerners think that everyone in Africa goes around in a grass skirt doing an incomprehensible tribal dance all day, waving spears and shields, etc.

I know a guy from South Africa once who was turned down for a job because he put on his resume that he had previously done IT work for a large bank in Joburg. The guy interviewing him scoffed at the ridiculous notion of IT or even electricity in Africa; he must have been lying, right?
Posted by Fnarf on August 17, 2012 at 10:06 AM · Report this
Purocuyu 7
So Third World can't include people other than black Africans?
Here's a Mudede problem: the inability to see that there are others beside black Africans and white Seattleites.
Posted by Purocuyu on August 17, 2012 at 10:19 AM · Report this
Posted by Zebes on August 17, 2012 at 10:27 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 9
It's all about the bribery, when you get down to it.
Posted by Will in Seattle on August 17, 2012 at 10:56 AM · Report this
Fnarf 10
@9, when the Bain helicopters come for you, you won't be laughing. Your 3-D iPad won't save you then. I know a few tricks, but you can't find them on the internet. I don't care what Brian Williams says, Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee. He's outside in my garbage cans right now, cooking up a can of whoop ass. Nigerian whoop ass can't be controlled with Canadian bridge-building supplies, like I used to build the Steilacoom Bridge from scratch, using only a tall monkey and an iPad. I'll bet you didn't know about that, Mr. Big Deal Google Search. Digital VERSATILE Disk, actually.
Posted by Fnarf on August 17, 2012 at 11:10 AM · Report this
@2: Agreed.
@5: Part of the reason for our higher infant mortality is how we define infant mortality. Our delivery rates and attempts at survival of premature infants that other countries, essentially, let die. That's not a criticism for either country, BTW - some people believe in letting nature take its course, and some don't. And obviously some of it is the disparity in health care availability. Just pointing out it isn't as simple as your post made it seem, intentionally or not.
Posted by NateMan on August 17, 2012 at 11:48 AM · Report this
ArtBasketSara 12
@5 Care Bears are obviously a "first world problem".
Posted by ArtBasketSara on August 17, 2012 at 11:56 AM · Report this
Dexter 13
@5 -- I wasn't comparing the US to other developed countries, just to the developing world. That's what this whole post is about.
Posted by Dexter on August 17, 2012 at 12:00 PM · Report this
Posted by JimmyCap on August 17, 2012 at 12:11 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 15

Yeah, a Nigerian who owns a Blackberry is very wealthy by Nigerian standards. He/she may live in the Third World, but the lifestyle is decidedly First World.
Posted by keshmeshi on August 17, 2012 at 12:29 PM · Report this
lark 16
Good Afternoon Charles,
I agree with Cole's words. However, Africa does have problems/tragedies that boogle the mind. I just read this:…

This is absolutely ghastly. 34 striking miners shot by the police!? This does not help Africa's image to the outside world.

I also read of a mining accident in Congo that killed 60 miners. How awful.
Posted by lark on August 17, 2012 at 1:00 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 17
@10: applause.gif
Posted by Doctor Memory on August 17, 2012 at 1:54 PM · Report this
Confluence 18

If your view of Africa is shaped solely by what you read in the NY Times, you've got your head up your ass. The NY Times and the negative sensationalist bullshit consistently cranked out by putzy Nicholas Kristof and others is a national embarrassment. Imagine reading the news about the U.S. which only discussed all the gun violence here. You'd think it wasn't safe for anyone to leave their house for fear of getting shot.

For a more measured view of the African continent without the Sally Struthers lens, head to the BBC or the Economist.
Posted by Confluence on August 17, 2012 at 2:51 PM · Report this
watchout5 19
If I'm not mistaken that was one of the first "first world problems" I ever encountered. Ignorance on an epic scale. I remember the first youtube video I saw out of Uganda of a solar power plant being opened by a local mayor, I was so confused, how could such a poor country open up something that seems so expensive. That was around the time I realized even the poorest countries have their rich people and those rich people want to do big things too. Amazing.
Posted by watchout5 on August 18, 2012 at 3:55 AM · Report this
juan_martinez 20
I don't like the font his story Is being written in.

No serif? Not my problem
Posted by juan_martinez on August 18, 2012 at 9:51 AM · Report this

Add a comment


Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy