Media critic

Never let it be said that MSNBC weekend host Melissa Harris-Perry ignores context. In an exchange from her Oct. 24 edition, Harris-Perry engaged her guests in an intelligent discussion of Rep. Paul Ryan’s demands to be allowed his family time in the event he became speaker of the House. Aimee Meredith Cox, a Fordham University professor of African American studies, noted that there is a “privilege to demand that you can have balance in your life when there are so many of us who are struggling just to hold on to what we have — forget about finding the balance or being able to juggle. And that individual . . . mentality is the majority of the basis for the Republican Party right now.” Panelist Eric Boehlert commented that Ryan wasn’t likely seeking to “start a national conversation” about the workplace — he’s just asserting his demands.

The discussion eventually swung around to Alfonso Aguilar, a former official in the administration of George W. Bush.

“Let’s be fair: If there’s somebody who’s a hard worker when he goes to Washington, it’s Paul Ryan,” said Aguilar, who continued his praise, saying that Ryan is someone who’s “trying to govern.” Then this exchange occurred (as noted by NewsBusters):

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.

To break this down, the Official Melissa Harris-Perry Rule Concerning the Use of the Term “Hard-Worker” appears to be as follows: Whenever uttering this term in the context of “relative privilege” — a redundancy — it must be contextualized in relation to agricultural drudgery/slavery and to the struggles of mothers who lack health insurance. Those who defy the rule on a certain MSNBC weekend program do so at the risk of interruption and shaming.