I saw this post on my favorite fitness page, and, being my favorite page, I didn’t want to say anything, but the concept of the quote was so insulting that I felt I had to. While I won’t hesitate getting into a good internet argument on Politico, or any other of the news sites I read, I don’t really like to engage on Facebook on sites that I like, just because it seems unproductive, or generate bad feelings on my part. Other people had commented that it was insulting, and the page admin wrote back that people were taking this the wrong way, it was posted on a fitness page, but people will see the negative in everything.
I wrote: “This is my favorite page, which made me hesitant to post a critical comment. I know nothing you post would be with bad intent 🙂 It’s hard to unpair ‘minimum wage work ethic’ though from the work ethic of people who make minimum wage. It’s not a very abstract quote, and the culture blaming people who make minimum wage for their failings is very prevalent, sometimes subtle sometimes not, and the language used to justify it, looks very similar to the quote posted”
She later posted that the quote was deleted due to misperceptions, and appreciated everyone’s input. I was secretly pleased, and also amazed at how many people were commenting that those that were insulted took this wrong, get offended at everything, need to ‘get over themselves’ blah blah. Very few people agreed that this was offensive. Later on, I realized that the quote stayed, and the post saying it was deleted, was deleted.
The thing about a metaphor, is it has to be associated with meaning, in order for it to mean something. Being posted on a fitness page is irrelevant to the underlying assumptions in the quote itself. If I said, “you can’t have a coffee cup dream on a spoon work ethic” people would just be like.. huh? Because the associations make no sense. The assumptions pair dollar amounts to value. e.g. million dollars good vs minimum wage bad. Not only was minimum wage itself deemed bad, but a work ethic was attached to it. The first half of the quote wasn’t so bad. You could just say, I have “million dollar dreams” but can’t get there without working hard. That is still slightly problematic because it associates millionaires with positive values which may or may not be true, but at least it doesn’t use a comparison of the person on the opposite side of the spectrum. But it didn’t say that. It used a moral comparison to having an awesome dream, and not being able to achieve it if you only work as hard as someone in poverty. People who make minimium wage are generally service workers, fast food workers, cleaners, undocumented workers, more often than not minorities, and these groups are associated as people without dreams to move up in life. The image of the low wage worker is someone who just shows up, but doesn’t really care. Someone who does not bust their ass. Someone who has moral failings because they aren’t trying hard enough. They are in their shitty situation by choice. Because if they worked harder to achieve their million dollar dreams, with a million dollar work ethic.. than you could deadlift 400 lb. In reality, most millionaires inherit wealth and it is handed down in the family, as well as due to privilege of identity -eg white and male. Wealth is much easier to make if you start with some. That’s why loans are so important in business. Of course there are always the few exceptions of people who started from nothing, and those stories are trumpeted up to prove that it’s true for everyone. But it’s not. Those are the exception, not the rule.
This quote could be applicable to many settings – as can many. That is the point. But that doesn’t change the intent and meaning of the words. If this said, “you can’t have American dreams on a mexican work ethic” people would be all up in arms. Or “you can’t achieve like a man on a woman’s work ethic” my point is this: It makes no difference to what setting you then use this for inspiration. The only reason people get inspired by it, is because the words are attached to meaning and value. These other quotes just mentioned – using similar word associations are just as obvious and insulting. Why then do we not see / care about class issues as much as race or gender? I think because we are more aware of it, and the assumptions behind it. Is it not racist or sexist if it is used on a fitness page? Of course it would be. And we know that. So in short, I found this quote offensive and factually inaccurate.