A Letter to Melissa Harris-Perry Regarding ‘Hard Workers’

Dear Melissa Harris-Perry,

I was watching your show on MSNBC when you rebuked Alfonso Aguilar for using the term “hard worker” to describe Representative Paul Ryan.

You told him:

“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.”

I absolutely agree that the term “hard worker” should not ever be used without putting it in its proper historical context. This is why I was particularly upset when you told Mr. Aguilar that you have an image of people working in cotton fields in your office. You were presumably speaking of slaves who were forced to work in the cotton fields. However, even if you were talking about anyone working in the cotton fields, like my grandmother did when she was a child, you are horribly misguided.

In my office, I hang pictures of concentration camp inmates, specifically from Auschwitz, to remind myself of what hard work looks like. Comparatively speaking, Ms. Harris-Perry, the Jews in Nazi Germany were much harder workers than the slaves in the United States.

Let’s make a point-by-point comparison:

  1. Slaves lived on plantations, while Jews in Nazi Germany lived in concentration camps, which were surrounded by guards and fences. The Jews in Auschwitz often lived 700 to a barrack, while American slaves lived much better, with Jacob Stroyer, a slave born on a plantation in 1849, saying his family shared an entire cabin with only one other family.
  2. Slaves were fed at least enough so that they could continue to work on the plantations, while the Jews in Nazi Germany were starved and worked to death. Many slave diets were lacking in nutrition, but they at least kept them alive.
  3. Slaves lived because their masters needed them for labor. After being worked to the bone, the Jews who survived, who didn’t starve to death or die from exposure, were executed in gas chambers.

Upon examination, it’s clear the Jews in Nazi Germany were much harder workers than American slaves. Given this, I would respectfully ask that you replace the image in your office of cotton field slaves with a photo of the prisoners in Auschwitz—just so you truly remember what a hard worker looks like.

Much love, girl!


Rob Knowles