Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

First World Problem or Global Problem?

Written by: on January 25, 2014

We often complain about the trivial things that inconvenience our daily routine (i.e. we got whole milk instead of soy milk in our coffee order; we forgot the power cord to our GPS and now we have to rely on our brain to get us to our destination; the wind blew the cable out and now we can’t watch our “special cable show” and we have to resort to regular television programs.)  These inconveniences have been known to be called “first world problems.”  According to the Urban Dictionary, the term first world problems is defined as “problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.”[1] Yet, the reading for this week, is not about first world or third world problems. It is about a global human problem!

In reading Collateral Damage:Social Inequalities in a Global Age I could not ignore the emotions that were stirring up inside of me. Emotions such as anger, anguish, distress, frustration, deep sorrow and compassion because of the injustices and disparities that people experience in our world, our nation, our communities, and right next door to us.

Bauman writes that the population at the bottom end of the social distribution of wealth and income is encapsulated in the imagined category of the “underclass.”[2] He defines this population as one that has no function to be performed, as in the case of the working or professional class, nor a position occupied in the social whole, as in the case of the lower, middle, or upper class. Hence a population that is in the society, but does nothing to contribute to the survival or well-being of society. Perhaps a population that one may consider to be invisible, disposable and worthless.

Martin Espada, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts,  states that the poor people are in danger—-it is dangerous to be poor.[3] He goes on to say that it is dangerous to be black.  It is dangerous to be Latino.[4] Yet for those who live in “gated communities” the poor people become the dangerous strangers. Gates and fences often are used to keep the dangerous strangers out and keep the insiders safe and secure.  The fence separates the “voluntary ghetto” of the high and mighty from the enforced ghettos of the low and hapless.[5]

According to the Urban dictionary, the ghetto is an impoverished, neglected, or otherwise disadvantaged residential area of a city, usually troubled by a disproportionately large amount of crime.[6] The ghetto is usually associated with the poor and the poor life. There are no fences and gates in the ghettos. Yet, you know when there has been a shift in a disadvantaged neighborhood because you begin to see fences and gates. A neighborhood that was once deteriorating suddenly becomes a “gated community” because the privileged have moved in and the poor have been forced out.

In her song, Ghetto, India Arie tells us that we all live in the ghetto:[7]

There are places in Havana
That remind me of Savannah
Parts of West Virginia
That might as well be Kenya
Parts of New York City
Parts of Mississippi
Parts of Tennessee
Look like another world to me

Ghetto, Might as well be another country
Barrio, Might as well be another country
When you look around
You live in another country, too

To be hungry in L.A.
Is just like starving in Bombay
Homeless in Morocco
Is a shelter in Chicago
Right around the corner
Just down the road
Right before your eyes
Right under your nose

The Ghetto
Might as well be another country
Might as well be another country
When you look around
You live in another country, too

Now the dictionary says
That the ghetto is place
Of minority and poverty and overpopulation
We live on this Earth together
Ain’t no separation
When you’re looking down from outer space
We’re just the human race and the world is a…

It’s in every place in every country
It’s in every place in every country
When you look around
Do you see your brother?
When you look around
It’s a small world after all
When you look around
You live in another country, too

Ghetto, Jamaica is a Ghetto
Ghetto, Japan is a Ghetto
Ghetto, America is a Ghetto
Ghetto, Slovakia is a Ghetto
Ghetto, South Africa is a Ghetto
Ghetto, Brazil is a Ghetto
Ghetto, Israel is a Ghetto

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you…” But this does not justify ignoring the needs of the poor.  We often spend more time worrying about the danger in every stranger that we rob ourselves from spending time in the company of strangers—in the company of our neighbors.  “Who are the poor in our communities? Who are the poor in our churches?

Have some of our churches become “gated communities?” Have we forgotten to love the least of these? Have we forgotten that the spirit of the Lord has anointed us to preach good news to the poor? Have we forgotten to invite the stranger in to feed, clothe and visit the stranger? Have we forgotten to love our neighbor? Have we forgotten to treat others as we would like to be treated? Have we excluded the stranger…the poor? Have we caused “collateral damage?”



[1]The Urban Dictionary,  http://www.urbandictionary.com   (Accessed 1/23/2014)

[2] Zgymunt Bauman, Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age, (Malden: MA, Polity Press, 2011) 3.

[3] Zgymunt Bauman, Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age, (Malden: MA, Polity Press, 2011)  6.

[4] Ibid., 6

[5] Ibid., 62

[6] The Urban Dictionary, http://www.urbandictionary.com   (Accessed 1/23/2014)

[7]Ghetto, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMZKPxAnYIQ (Accessed 1/23/2014)

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

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