This post is dedicated to all of my family members and friends who participate in solutions (through policy, education and everyday actions).
Try something for me. Scroll down your Facebook news feed and count how many status updates see in which the author is complaining about a problem. Now, see how many of those you would categorize as “First World problems.” If your news feed looks anything like mine, it’s pretty much all of them. Common “problem” updates include having to study for a test, disappointment over a silk shirt being ruined by spilled red wine, pants that are too tight after a winter of too much eating out, complaints about house cleaning, delayed flights, rescheduled concerts (get better soon, Bono — apparently I am fb friends with hundreds of your fans), play-dates being canceled (frowny face), etc. With Facebook for iPhone, we can now stay up-to-date on every frustrating situation that befalls our friends.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though I am any different. I’m the first to be bummed about a bad meal out, frustrated by a client who cancels at the last-minute or annoyed (well, a tad amused) by a 16-year-old barista who condescendingly tells me that the luke-warm watery grossness she’s prepared for me is “ummm, actually, like, how a traditional cappuccino is made, but I can *eyeroll* make it again for you if you really want.” First World problems? Yeah, I think so. (For some hilarious examples check out http://therealfirstworldproblems.tumblr.com/) That said, the purpose of this post is not to poke fun (ok, well maybe a little, and definitely at myself), but to provoke thought and, best case scenario, action.
Though I try to always remain aware of the privileged place in which I stand as a middle-class American woman who has access to as much education, information and opportunity as I want, I consistently fall short of the expectations I have set for myself. A few months ago, I attended a party at my parents’ place. I came directly from teaching my night class and was pretty tired and distracted– Michael and I were leaving for Puerto Rico for a week the next morning. A few of the other guests started asking me about the trip and, after describing the articles I was researching there, the hotel where we were staying and some of our sight-seeing plans, I launched into a diatribe on my frustrations with Delta Airline’s ridiculousness. As I stopped to take a breath, a young Mexican-American friend of our family interjected “Wait… you get to go on a plane tomorrow? That’s so cool.” I smiled as I turned toward him and was met with wide eyes. “Man, that sounds SO fun,” he added. He was absolutely right. Forget Delta, I was the one who was being ridiculous.
As I drove home that night, I thought about the reality he and his single mom experience. Like me, they live in the First World— in suburban America, to be exact. He is growing up a few blocks from my childhood home, though his access to education, information and opportunity is limited due to a variety nonsensical bureaucratic obstacles he and his mother are currently facing.
Most of us can agree that the systems we perpetuate as First World citizens have, through both action and inaction, ruined many lives around the globe. However, we frequently forget about the hidden— and very real— problems many experience here, quite literally in our back yards. Many of these individuals— not only immigrants, but anyone who has been denied opportunity or experienced difficulty for any number of reasons— are often too embarrassed or scared to talk about their problems, especially in suburban America, where “OKness” and social advancement are the perceived norms. Middle-class Americans are brainwashed to think that if we work hard, anyone can achieve the “American dream” (and, conversely, that those who have not achieved financial success have chosen not to or are simply lazy). Nothing could be further from the truth (and if you still believe the “American Dream” maxim, you’ve been drinking a bit too much of the Party’s Tea). In reality, it is a privilege “just” to be able to get an education, “just” to work.
Time to recalibrate.
Taking political or social action to reverse these unjust systems that are so close to home.
Educating those around us about current realities and the sociohistorical events that lead to them.
Respectfully (without self-interest or imposing a religious agenda) helping those who are afflicted by social injustices (often this is best done on a personal level, and quietly).
These are some of the first steps to providing solutions to the problems many experience, the real problems of the First World.