By Shiko Gathuo P.h.D. Dignify Africa Movement
The Third World. Perhaps the most overused phrase in describing where the world’s majority of the poor live. Although originating from Cold War political alliances, the term is now used to denote the level of economic development in some countries or regions of the world. Additionally, it is liberally used by politicians of every stripe to describe decline. In February, for example, Vice President Joe Biden described New York’s La Guardia Airport as being similar to airports in the Third World. The audience he was addressing laughed at the comment. The New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, however, was not amused. He pointed out that as a proud New Yorker, he did not like the comment.
Perhaps even worse, the term has pervaded the general population and been incorporated in everyday conversation. My apartment building is so horrible, it’s like I live in the Third World. Children are chastised: Finish your food; there are children starving in the Third Word [or more commonly ...in Africa].
So, what is wrong with the term?
First, consider the literal implication of the term. Third World implies that there are three different worlds. It emphasizes separation and “otherness,” leading to apathy and a lack of solidarity with people in “other” worlds. How can we possibly end world hunger, cure global health epidemics, preserve the earth, or achieve world peace when we don’t even live in the same world?
Second, the term has come to denote an acceptable standard for some regions of the world (and conversely, an unacceptable standard for others). The direct and obvious result is that those in the “Third World” experience permanent feelings of inferiority while those in the First World continue to feel superior. How can the two worlds ever negotiate fair political or economic terms when the power dynamic is so uneven?
Third, the less obvious effect of having an “acceptable” standard for the Third World is that the economic and other solutions proposed for those regions are only as good as is deemed sufficient for them. Worse still, people in the Third World have internalized these low expectations and are happy to only achieve at those levels. Where do you think you are? New York? Another unintended consequence of this term is that it is used to keep poor people in rich countries poor and quiet: You should be grateful that you have public housing; you should see how people in the Third World live!
So where is the Third World – really? The folks at Flying Kites Global* decided to find out from some little humans. Clearly, these little ones don’t live in that world. Watch: