Melissa Harris-Perry Scolds Guest to Be ‘Super Careful’ About Saying ‘Hard Worker’ Because Of Slavery

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MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry derailed a conversation about potential Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) Saturday to admonish a guest for calling him a “hard worker,” arguing it demeaned slaves and working mothers “in the context of relative privilege.”

The exchange, noted by Weasel Zippers, occurred when conservative Latino activist Alfonso Aguilar sang Ryan’s praises during a panel discussion about his likely ascendance to replace John Boehner (R., Ohio).

“If there’s somebody who is a hard worker when he goes to Washington, it’s Paul Ryan,” he said. “Not only works with the Republicans but Democrats. You know very well that I work on [the] immigration issue, trying to get Republicans to support immigration reform … This is somebody who’s trying to govern.”

Harris-Perry cut in to tell Aguilar that the use of the term “hard worker” was problematic since she had a picture of slaves working in cotton fields on her office wall to remind her of when to really use that term. Her rambling response also included an attack on Republicans for demonizing working mothers.

“I just want to pause on one thing,” she said. “Because I don’t disagree with you that I actually think Mr. Ryan is a great choice for this role, but I want us to be super careful when we use the language ‘hard worker,’ because I actually keep an image of folks working in cotton fields on my office wall, because it is a reminder about what hard work looks like. So, I feel you that he’s a hard worker. I do.

“But in the context of relative privilege, and I just want to point out that when you talk about work-life balance and being a hard worker, the moms who don’t have health care who are working. But, we don’t call them hard workers. We call them failures. We call them people who are sucking off the system.”

Aguilar protested, but Harris-Perry charged “that is really what you guys do as a party.” When he accused her of generalizing, she said “not all Republicans” engage in that kind of labeling.

Full exchange:

ALFONSO AGUILAR: But let’s be fair. If there’s somebody who is a hard worker when he goes to Washington, it’s Paul Ryan. Not only works with the Republicans but Democrats. You know very well that I work on [the] immigration issue, trying to get Republicans to support immigration reform. Paul Ryan is somebody who has supported immigration reform, has worked with somebody like Luis Gutierrez. Luis Gutierrez is very respectful, speaks highly of Paul Ryan. This is somebody who’s trying to govern.

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY: Alfonso, I feel you. But I just want to pause on one thing. Because I don’t disagree with you that I actually think Mr. Ryan is a great choice for this role. But I want us to be super careful when we use the language “hard worker,” because I actually keep an image of folks working in cotton fields on my office wall, because it is a reminder about what hard work looks like. So, I feel you that he’s a hard worker. I do. But in the context of relative privilege, and I just want to point out that when you talk about work-life balance and being a hard worker, the moms who don’t have health care who are working–

AGUILAR: I understand that.

HARRIS-PERRY: But, we don’t call them hard workers. We call them failures. We call them people who are sucking off the system.

AGUILAR: No, no, no, no.

HARRIS-PERRY: No, no. Really, ya’ll do. That is really what you guys do as a party.

AGUILAR: That is very unfair. I think we cannot generalize about the Republican Party.

HARRIS-PERRY: That’s true. Not all Republicans. That is certainly true.

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