[guest post by Dana]
Earlier this week, I posted about SJW Melissa Harris-Perry, who cautioned executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, Alfonso Aguilar, about describing Paul Ryan as a “hard worker”. To SJW Harris-Perry, Ryan, a white, male Republican basking in the luxurious lap of his obvious top-tier privilege, “hard worker” couldn’t possibly be accurate. Because everything must be filtered through the lens of “relative privilege” (see: political identity, gender, power and race). Hence her “image of folks working in cotton fields on my office wall, because it is a reminder about what hard work looks like.”
The Washington Post’s Eric Wemple took issue with Harris-Perry’s scolding of Aguilar and looked at transcripts from her show to see when “hard work” was used by her without any qualifiers:
On Sept. 12, Harris-Perry played a clip of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton saying, “If we women stand together and fight together, we can make our country stronger, we can make our country fairer. We women are not afraid of hard work. And that’s good because we’ve got some hard work to do.”
* On Sept. 6, Harris-Perry, in a discussion about race and policing, said, “What I don’t want to miss is that policing is in fact actually hard work, and there are things that make policing a more dangerous or less dangerous job. And I guess, part of what I’m interested in is, what those sort of facts are, what actually makes it harder or more dangerous to be a police officer.”
* On Aug. 30, Harris-Perry addressed whether a work ethic was critical to the advancement of retired brain surgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson: “I don’t know whether or not he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. My suggestion to be actually is that’s probably is not the full story,” said Harris-Perry. When challenged on that assertion, Harris-Perry defended, “I think that hard work is necessary but insufficient condition for success. Which is simply to say, must we work hard? Absolutely. But does hard work necessarily lead to success? No. And so I always want to think about the other side.”
* On Aug. 9, Harris-Perry interviewed actor O’Shea Jackson Jr. from “Straight Outta Compton.” Jackson said, “This is a big-time film that could make or break [producer F. Gary Gray]. He’s not going to just let it go to just appease his friends so they put me through the ringer and all that hard work is building confidence within me, if they needed me I’d do it again.”
* On May 30, Harris-Perry addressed the corruption scandal at FIFA and took this clip from organization President Sepp Blatter: “I will not allow the actions of a few to destroy the hard work and the integrity of the vast majority of those who work so hard for football.”
* On May 3, Harris-Perry highlighted the work of a Baltimore program in which teenagers serve as liaisons to the police. Addressing the youngsters, she said, “Thank you for the work that you are doing on the ground there. Stay safe, stay positive, and keep doing the hard work.”
* On Feb. 28, Harris-Perry focused on labor issues in Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, and interviewed a union activist who attacked the governor for his policies: “He should apologize to the hard-working men and women of Wisconsin.”
Do you see a pattern here? It’s not difficult. As Wemple points out:
In none of those instances did Harris-Perry uncork any lectures about the historical context of hard work or hard workers. Perhaps that’s because those discussions didn’t fit into the framework of “relative privilege,” which the host cited as the trigger for her outburst against Aguilar.
The lesson, of course, is nothing new: if one’s political identification resemble Harris-Perry’s, you can be deemed a hard worker. But clearly Republicans don’t meet the criteria. And God forbid you are a white, Christian male. From there you can do the identity math.
Also responding to Harris-Perry was Mike Rowe, whose show Dirty Jobs recognized the hard working men and women of our country who are unafraid and unashamed to take on the dirty jobs that keep the American wheel turning:
Melissa Harris-Perry appears to be put off by the suggestion that “hard work” is too often linked with success. She doesn’t like the fact that many hard-working individuals have not enjoyed the same measure of success as Speaker Ryan, who was being acknowledged on her show for his excellent work ethic.
To me, it sounds as though Melissa is displaying images of slavery or drudgery in her office to remind herself of what hard work really and truly looks like. That’s a bit like hanging images of rape and bondage to better illustrate the true nature of human sexuality. Whatever her logic might be, it’s difficult to respond without first pointing out a few things that most people will find screamingly obvious. So let’s do that.
First of all, slavery is not “hard work;” it’s forced labor. There’s a big difference. Likewise, slaves are not workers; they are by definition, property. They have no freedom, no hope, and no rights. Yes, they work hard, obviously. But there can be no “work ethic” among slaves, because the slave has no choice in the matter.
Workers on the other hand, have free will. They are free to work as hard as they wish. Or not. The choice is theirs. And their decision to work hard, or not, is not a function of compliance or coercion; it’s a reflection of character and ambition.
This business of conflating hard work with forced labor not only minimizes the importance of a decent work ethic, it diminishes the unspeakable horror of slavery. Unfortunately, people do this all the time. We routinely describe bosses as “slave-drivers,” and paychecks as “slave’s wages.” Melissa though, has come at it from the other side. She’s suggesting that because certain “hard workers” are not as prosperous as other “hard workers,” – like the people on her office wall – we should all be “super-careful” about overly-praising hard work.
I suspect this is because Melissa believes – as do many others – that success today is mostly a function of what she calls, “relative privilege.” This is fancy talk for the simple fact that life is unfair, and some people are born with more advantages than others. It’s also a fine way to prepare the unsuspecting viewer for the extraordinary suggestion that slavery is proof-positive that hard work doesn’t pay off.
But of course, given the “relative privilege” of the two people involved in criticizing Harris-Perry, you might want to take it all with a grain of white salt.