What Does 'Hard Work' Look Like? Read Mike Rowe's Epic Takedown of an MSNBC Anchor's Controversial Comment.

What Does 'Hard Work' Look Like? Read Mike Rowe's Epic Takedown of an MSNBC Anchor's Controversial Comment.
Image credit: Mike Rowe

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Former West Coast Editor
4 min read

Mike Rowe is no stranger to hard work...or hard labor. There is a difference, you know. The host of CNN’s Somebody’s Gotta Do It has scraped cloth diapers clean, wrangled poisonous snakes and blown up dead cows to separate the skin from the meat, and that’s not even the half of it.  

So it’s not exactly a surprise that the former Dirty Jobs star got his knickers in a twist when MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry recently took offense to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) being described as a “hard worker” on her show. She bristled at the term, suggesting that it diminishes the back-breaking work that slaves were forced to do.

Rowe, best known for mucking it up on Dirty Jobs, fired back on his Facebook fan page. The blue-collar icon’s 626-word smackdown, also posted on his personal website, called Harris-Perry out for making what he says is an unfair comparison.

Related: Mike Rowe: To Be Successful, Don't Fear the Dirty Work

Here’s what the anchor said that set off a viral backlash in the first place: "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.”

Harris-Perry then went on to suggest the Republican Party generally discredits the work ethic of not only minorities, but women, too. She added, “But in the context of relative privilege, when you talk about work-life balance, the moms who don’t have health care aren’t called hard workers. We call them failures. We call them people who are sucking off the system.”

To that, Rowe said: “[T]here is no longer a limit to what people can be offended by.” His reaction post, now topping 41,000 likes and nearing 3,000 comments, states that he, too, has an image on his office wall to remind him of the value of hard work, rather “what happens when you need a plumber but can’t find one.” The picture shows him squatting next to the “most disappointing toilet” he’s ever encountered, steeling himself to gut the excrement-splattered commode with a garden trowel.

Related: Mike Rowe on His Facebook Obsession, Working Hard and Singing Opera

Rowe contends that “conflating hard work with forced labor” minimizes both the importance of a strong work ethic and the horrors of slavery. “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,” he wrote. “That’s a bit like hanging images of rape and bondage to better illustrate the true nature of human sexuality.” The former opera singer then slayed Harris-Perry’s logic, point for point, laying out what he sees as the differences between slavery and “hard work.” For a look at Rowe’s entire broadside, check it out below:

What's on YOUR Wall?'Hello Mr. Rowe! What's your take on MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry being offended by the phrase ...

Posted by Mike Rowe on Thursday, October 29, 2015


Related: Is the Notion of a 'Good Work Ethic' Generationally Biased?

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