Stop Using ‘Third World’ As An Insult

I live in the ‘Third World’. You’re not better than us

A map of the ‘three worlds’ of the Cold War. Also a map of your ignorance

People use ‘third world’ as a slur. ‘Oh we’re like a third world country now,’ obviously talking about something bad. But, uh, I live in a third world country. You guys are being dicks. Words are used to assert power and this hurts us more than feelings.

Billions of people live in what you call the third world and we’re not some uniform hellscape. You’re insulting us and you’re plain wrong. This hurts us cause we get stomped on, but it hurts you because you remain ignorant. Worst of all, the slur comes from people I otherwise respect.

I like umair haque, but it’s just awful when he says “the average American began to live a life more suited to a third world country.” Like we’re uniquely suited to shit. April D. Ryan seems cool but not when she says “what makes us different from a third world country & dictatorships?” Like we’re all despotic hellscapes. These are people I like, and even they insult me. You can imagine how the racists are.

Umair seems aware, but read the following quote. It’s just a litany of insults towards billions of people, like we’re the fountain of bad. And it’s not even true. We are hugely diverse and almost none of us live like this.

C’mon Umair, this is just racist. Do better

I say this to the people I cited out of respect and a middle finger to the racists. The third world is Earth and all of us deserve respect.

Third World ≠ Bad

Trump calls us shitholes, but at least he’s direct. The casual bigotry is everywhere. For anything bad, people say ‘it’s like a third world country.’ Like you can group all the colored, colonized places you don’t know together and use them as a synonym for bad.

I live in a third world country called Sri Lanka and it’s not a shithole. It’s not everything bad in your society. It’s a place. We have families, we have companies, we make music, we do science. We have good and bad and you could learn something from us if you just learned respect.

Is it bad to be Vietnamese? You might have zero coronavirus. Is it bad to be Ghanaian? You might have leadership that can talk straight. Is it bad to be Nigerian? You might have Burna Boy. The third world is a map of western ignorance more than a map of the world. What you call the third world includes everyone from Bolivia to Sierra Leone to Sri Lanka to Indonesia. What do we have in common besides your ignorance? I don’t know.

I know your map says ‘here be dragons’, but your map is wrong. Here be people.

We are not some dark palette of everything bad. (Art by Mbali Dhlamini)

The Third World Is Billions Of People

These countries you casually shit on are hugely diverse and sophisticated. Despite being colonized and exploited and locked in violent borders, we persist, we exist, and we excel. For example, we have almost uniformly better public health than the ‘developed’ world. We’re human, we’re multi-faceted, in ways we can teach you, in ways we must learn. Give us that respect. We have food, we have science, we have art.

Do we have problems? Absolutely, but look around. So do you. Your civilizations are falling apart right now, not ours. Look at the darkness within yourselves, stop pointing at dark people. The Third World is not just some black space for you to dump all your problems and fears on.

Let me tell you some general things about the third world that you can assume. Write this down.

We are people and we’re cool. (Art by Basil Kincaid)

You Are Not Better Than Us

We are not backwards. We are not ‘developing’. We’re not less advanced than you. What does backwards mean when we have better public health? What does development mean when you’re destroying the Earth? What does advanced mean when your people won’t even put on a mask? You have no right to judge us. You’re not better than us because you have more stuff.

You’re not better than indigenous people, for example, just because you have an iPhone. Their civilization would have been sustainable for millenia. What you call ‘development’ is about to brick the Earth this century. Who’s better, really, the people that defend the Amazon, or the indolent members of Amazon Prime?

To be completely frank, the ‘developed’ world you live in is measurably the worst. Take the Earth’s temperature. That’s your ‘development’. We may be poor, but at least we’re not running a negative balance with the world. You have blood, oil, and nuclear waste on your hands, and you’re pointing fingers at us. You should be taking our hand in humility, and getting out of the hole you’ve dug.

Come correct or get our name out your mouth. (Art by Kudzanai Chiurai)

The Third World Is Earth

Do you know what Third World even means? It’s the places that didn’t threaten to nuke everyone. We were the peaceful ones. You guys pointed missiles at everyone for decades and want to be called civilized. LOL no. You’re the ones that almost destroyed it. And you’re doing it again.

Europe and the United States have caused the most climate change, and the US is the only country in the world outside of the Paris Accords. You’re so proud of your wealth, but the richest 1% of the population causes more than double the emissions of the bottom 50%. You say you’re leaders of the free world and we’re just developing. Where are you leading? What would you have us develop? The end of the Earth?

You should wish to fall into the third world. You might rejoin the human race. Instead you colonial, war-mongering, polluting fools look down on us. You lump us all together into one black space and use it as a slur. You’re insulting, and tragically for us all, you’re wrong. Whatever you call a ‘developed’ world is not developing well. It’s sick and on fire. Hence you don’t need to help us. You need our help.

That’s why I’m reclaiming the slur ‘Third World’. Here’s what it means now. The third world from the Sun is Earth. The Third World is the people not actively destroying it. Who are you?

Indi Samarajiva is a writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sign up for my newsletter at www.indi.ca, and you can reach me at indi@indi.ca.

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