On Antifa and Social Justice Struggle

The anti-fascist resistance groups that have been fighting the public displays of hate and oppression of white supremacists and other Trumpsters have been declared “domestic terrorists.” Apparently, some of their tactics have involved violence. I don’t know, I haven’t been keeping tabs on all their actions. But I have seen all the finger-wagging hot-take think pieces from both sides of the political divide.

And to be quite honest, I just don’t care.

I don’t care what or how Antifa is fighting oppression. I’m more interested in the age-old narrative emerging here in which the oppressed are only allowed to fight oppression in ways deemed acceptable by the oppressor. This is a tone-policing tale as old as time.

When Nat Turner led one of the largest American slave rebellions in the early 1800s, both slaveholders and so-called abolitionist allies alike decried his use of violent “terrorizing” tactics. It got people seriously thinking about how to end slavery, though. The Black Panther Party, which instituted the free breakfast program for kids and fought against police brutality (yeah, how are we doing with that nowadays?), was deemed by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to be “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Today, Black Lives Matter is constantly undergoing similar scrutiny; and it constitutes an explicitly peaceful movement, despite the oppressor’s determination to characterize it as otherwise.

That’s the thing, though: it really isn’t about whether there’s violence or not. Even peaceful movements get denigrated as divisive and dangerous. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed how many times for his peaceful, nonviolent interventions? How long has it been since Colin Kaepernick has been out of a job because he took a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence against black people?

Here’s the real deal: the same folks who decry the violent acts of Antifa were the exact same people calling for us to uphold the First Amendment free speech rights of the white supremacists marching on Charlottesville. White supremacists who plowed a car into the crowd of anti-racist counter-protestors, killing a woman and injuring many.White supremacists who waved guns and shouted violent epithets at these same counter-protestors. As I’ve said before, free speech only applies to certain folks.

So, you’ll excuse me if I refuse to care about what Antifa has or hasn’t done. You’ll excuse me if I choose to take those finger-wagging hot-take think pieces by so-called liberal allies and toss them right into the rubbish bin. Because I know what they’re really saying.

Violence against oppression is just as bad as violence within oppression.

Translation: I’m all for anti-oppressive praxis as long as it leaves my privileged comfort bubble intact.

Thing is, fighting oppression is messy. It’s not always going to be done right or peacefully or with perfect grace. And that’s okay. It’s still vitally worth doing. As Frederick Douglass has been done told us all:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

“West India Emancipation” speech (1857)

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Post-ALA Race Fatigue

I just spent the last 5 days at the American Library Association annual conference in Chicago, and I am suffering serious race fatigue

Race fatigue is a real physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro- and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people. The more white people, the longer the time period, the more intense the race fatigue. 

My ALA Annual 2017 conference badge

I usually come back from conferences pretty exhausted anyway. I’m an introvert, an over-achiever, and an over-joiner, so I’m always faced with having to be conscious about taking breaks, saying no, and engaging in other forms of self-care. But when you combine that with 5 days of being talked at, over, and through by folks in a profession that’s 88% white…well, let’s just say I hit my limit. 

Its been 5 straight days of being tone-policed and condescended to and ‘splained to. Five days of listening to white men librarians complain about being a “minority” in this 88% white profession–where they consistently hold higher positions with higher pay–because they don’t understand the basics of systemic oppression. (They’re librarians. You’d think they’d know how to find and read a sociology reference, but whatever.) Five days of having “nice white ladies” tell you to be “civil” and “professional” when you talk about the importance of acknowledging oppression and our profession’s role in it. 

Even with well-meaning white people, friends even, it’s been exhausting; the fatigue is still there. Five days of having white colleagues corner you to “hear more” about the microaggressions you’ve suffered and witnessed, not because they want to check in on your fatigue, but because they take a weird pleasure in hearing the horror stories and feeling superior to their “less woke” racial compatriots. 

Five days of mounting anger and frustration that you struggle to keep below the surface because you can’t be the “angry and emotional person of color” yet again. 

Don’t get me wrong, there were delightful moments of reprieve. I went to the Spectrum Scholarship 20th Anniversary celebration and met the amazing Dr. Carla Hayden–first black, first woman, first librarian–Librarian of Congress. (She’s so wonderful. We chatted about my name, which I share with the main character of her favorite children’s book.) I caught up with friends and colleagues of color and met new ones. These moments kept me going. And I did have some moments of rest with a few absolutely invaluable and genuine white allies. 

But I’m tired. 

Luckily, the rest of my summer will be spent going on vacation with family, steeping in time with the people who love and know me best. I’ll be getting some much needed R & R in this racial battle called life. And when I get back to it all, I’ll keep on fighting, bearing in mind the inspiring words Dr. Hayden imparted to us at the Spectrum celebration: “You gotta be in the room. You gotta be at the table. You gotta fight.”

Grit? Git!

I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience lately.

Angela Galvan, Jacob Berg, and Eamon Tewell gave a fantastic presentation on the myth of resilience and grit in academic libraries at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference in Baltimore earlier this year. While I wasn’t able to attend because (of course) the conference gods had scheduled one of my panels at the same time, afterward, I dove into their presentation, handout, and the related tweets with gusto. I sincerely hope Angela, Jacob, and Eamon take their work further because it’s really important stuff. They talk about how the myth of resilience reifies oppression and maintains the status quo. How grit is an excuse for the haves to continue having and the have-nots to continue without.

Now, the ACRL President’s Program is planning a program on “resilience (hopefully) in all its complexity” for the American Library Association (ALA) Annual meeting next year. They’ve asked for people to share (for free) their ideas about resilience so that the speakers (not yet identified) can use those ideas as the basis for their talks (likely without attribution as the originating comments are to be anonymized). In other words, ACRL wants us to show resilience by pouring out our gritty souls as fuel for what promises to be an interesting program.

Yesterday at the Untold Histories unconference, I sat in on a session about creating a diversity pipeline for the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) professions. We’d hardly gotten settled in our seats when the conversation quickly turned to the abysmally low pay commonly found in our professions, even when they require graduate-level degrees. As one participant put it, “I feel a little guilty encouraging people from underrepresented groups to enter this profession when I know they’re going to be paid so little for so much work.” In other words, they’ll be expected to spend the rest of their professional lives wallowing in grit and resilience.

All of this thinking has made me reach a conclusion: Our profession’s obsession with resilience plays a huge part in destroying our attempts at increasing diversity. I am convinced that a big reason why we’re still 87% white is because we are obsessed with grit. Grit keeps our libraries underfunded, our staff underpaid, our work undervalued. We wear our grit like medals of honor when it’s that same grit that keeps us mired in the status quo.

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“Grit” by Al Greer via Flickr.com, CC BY-NC 2.0

Grit is the magical fairy dust that makes “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” physically possible. Normally, that phrase, so common among those with privilege, is nonsensical. (No, really, it can’t be done.) But when you sprinkle on a bit of grit, all of a sudden, the hapless pickaninny floats up from his place in the dust and accomplishes the incredible. All without touching the much-protected privilege of the master in power. Resilience absolves those with privilege of the responsibility for dismantling oppression and erecting systems of equity. Resilience is the wheel that keeps the myth of meritocracy grinding.

And we, in the library, profession love it. We’re obsessed with it. We love our tales of the library staff who kept the place open after-hours, without pay, for the sake of the community. The library folks who continued to provide the same level of services even when their budgets had been slashed in half. We proudly share our job postings calling for a library unicorn with an MLIS, a second masters, and the ability to do the job of five people while being paid the salary of three-fifths of a person (that age-old fraction always at play). We shove our graduate students into unpaid internships where they pay tuition for the pleasure of handing out their free labor, and we tout their resilience for the sake of gaining “valuable” experience. We love grit.

And we are steadily choking to death on it.

If we truly want to diversify our profession, we MUST give up our obsession with resilience. We must give up our never-ending dreams of grit. As Angela, Jacob, and Eamon note in their work, we have to accept the possibility of failure. Services may (will) be cut. Libraries may (will) close. It’s tragic. But it’s happening anyway, even with our grit. We can’t continue to try to make do with nothing. Our resilience is doing us no favors. It isn’t the life raft sent to save us; it’s just extra weight dragging us down.

Let’s give up resilience and grit and follow in the steps of Christina Bell, that beautiful creature:

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Screenshot of tweet by @librarybell

LIS Mental Health Week

This week is LIS Mental Week. Founded last year by two people I absolutely adore, Cecile Walker and Kelly McElroy, it’s a time for those of us in the library and information profession to learn, share, and support one another when it comes to mental health issues affecting us and our families. 

With what’s happening in our world and the immense weight of social justice work nowadays, it is absolutely vital that we be able to talk openly and unabashedly about our mental health. As a black woman and a practicing Christian who also suffers from anxiety, OCD, and panic disorders, I know all too well the silence and stigma that can surround mental illness. I’m also intimately acquainted with the danger of suffering mental illness in silence without treatment or support. And I, too, have felt the ill effects of recent events on my mental and physical health. 

Now more than ever, we have to find and cultivate those safe spaces where we can ask for much needed help and see to much needed self-care. It is part and parcel of the important activism and advocacy work that we do. In addition, those with privilege who serve as allies need to also recognize the physical, mental, and emotional strain that results from living a life beset by systemic oppression. 

I encourage all of you to take time this week to find trusted friends and allies with whom you can provide mutual support and care, to learn more about what mental illness can mean for those who have to deal with it, and to discover and practice effective strategies for managing your own self-care. This work we do is a marathon and not a sprint: if we’re going to make it all the way through, we’ve got to take care of ourselves. And each other. 

“There’s No # For That”

Yesterday I experienced an amazing moment of solidarity and activism with trusted, like-minded individuals who care deeply about fighting oppression in all its forms:

I shared a platter of barbecued meat with Chris Bourg, Eamon Tewell, Emily Drabinski, Zoe Fisher, Jessica Critten, and Angela Pashia. 

Oh, you thought I was going to talk about the #WomensMarch? We did that, too. We’re all in Atlanta for the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, so we joined the rally and march in Atlanta–in John Lewis’ district no less. We even got to hear him speak. 

But truthfully, as fun as it was to see millions of people come out across the world in support of social justice–and against the current US administrarion and its campaign of hate–the fact is these marches were really about little more than–to use a white guy buzzword–optics. It looks good that more people showed up in DC to protest the new administration than showed up for the actual inauguration. It looks good for people who’ve been sitting on their privilege to get up and put on genitalia hats and demand justice. It looks good when people peacefully and cheerily take to the streets to do activism for a day. It all looks good. 

But as my wise friend Emily Drabinski pointed out yesterday while we’re ankle-deep in Georgia mud: “Activism isn’t sexy. There’s no hashtag for that.”

No, there is not. 

We slogged through mud for a couple hours for activism yesterday, but what about those of us who have been slogging through mud for years doing this work? People like my lunch companions who are my trusted comrades and allies in the struggle? I’m glad so many feel they’ve “woken up” in the last few months, but what about all of us who have been awake and working so long we’re weary with sleep deprivation?

Slogging through the Georgia mud

The truth is we can wear pink hats and carry funny signs all day but that won’t do anything to combat systemic oppression. Not while white women are policing the words and actions of women of color, and black women in particular, telling us to “stay on message” when we point out the complicity of white women in getting us to where we are now. Not while one of the biggest “intersectional” marches for social justice is yet predicated on an erasure of disabled people. Not while this “intersectional” action has become almost entirely centered on the cis-glorification of womanhood based on the possession of certain sex organs. Not while marchers take the time to divert to the sidelines to take pictures with and hug the police presence, stepping past “Black Lives Matter” signs to do so.   

Not while, standing in the Georgia mud as John Lewis speaks, my comrades and I look over to see a white woman holding a sign that reads: “John Lewis is my spirit animal.” Yup. 

So I’m going to stick with my takeaway of the great activist experience I had yesterday. That meat was delicious. (If you’re ever in Atlanta, check it out.) Our conversation, as is always the case with these folks and many others like them, was enlightening and inspiring. It was a space of safety and honesty and care. And meat. Lots of meat. 

There’s just no hashtag for that. 

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Happy New Year, friends.

Hope you all had a restful end of year and are ready to head back into it.

I spent the time off with family, as is key for my own self-care warfare. This time included spending a significant portion riding in the car with my parents and brother on the road between my home state of Florida and my sister’s home five states away. Which means I got to listen to a lot of my favorite music: holiday classics by the Temptations and Mahalia Jackson and funk and soul classics on the SoulTown station of XM radio. The Delfonics. Betty Wright. And this truth-telling spoken word funk piece by Gil Scott-Heron:

You will not be able to stay home, brother.

You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.

You will not be able to lose yourself on skag

and Skip out for beer during commercials,

Because the revolution will not be televised.

Well. Yeah. Go ahead and listen to that one more ‘gain. I’ll wait.

The reveolution will not be right back

after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.

This is where we are, folks. We are in the midst of a revolution. For some of us, we’ve been here for a while. This is nothing new; just the standard way our lives are hard fought as victims of systemic oppression. For others, this feels like a new era. The weight of revolution is unfamiliar. It’s okay. We’ll show you the way.

We’ll show you what it means to live in a world where you cannot rely on the powers that be to protect or save you. Where the government “of the people” is clearly not the government for your people. Where “not my president” literally means “not my president” and has for a long, long time.

(There’ve been quite a few people–mainly white–pushing back against this slogan. “But he is our president! We can hold him accountable!” Tell that to the millions of us who have never had a president accountable to our communities in our lives. Hillary wouldn’t have been our president either. Let’s face it, Obama wasn’t even our president. Not really.)

This is the world of the margins. The world of the revolution. It is not safe. There are no performative pins worn here. It is not nice. There are few words of encouragement here. It is full of hard work and that work is very often not rewarded. There are no ally cookies here.

There is rage and pain. There is facing the frustration of historical trauma and modern-day oppression from those you seek to help. There is knowing that “not all _____” is a derailing lie meant to recast the focus on your own privilege. There is taking shots from “friendly fire”and yet getting back up to fight in the struggle because you are committed. Because you know your complicity as a direct result of your privilege. Because you feel your hurt feelings and cry your privileged tears on the sidelines so you can be better equipped to be a good strong ally who can handle the rage of your oppressed comrades.

There is all this.

And there is progress.

We have to be ready for this in the revolution. It’s hard, I know. But it’s a commitment worth making.

I’m not much for new year’s resolutions, but I’m committing to  being a better ally in the areas of my privilege–listening more, signal boosting more, learning more, taking the rage of my comrades and activating my privilege to broadcast their message. Putting myself aside and doing what they need me to do in the way they need me to do it. Without praise or reward or even my own comfort. Because–

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,

will not be televised, will not be televised.

The revolution will be no re-run brothers;

The revolution will be live.

Self-Care Warfare

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

~Audre Lorde

Hi, friends. 

I’ve been a bit quiet on the social media front over the last few weeks. That’s because I’ve been reveling in self-care:

I roasted a turkey and baked my grandmother Muz’s famous mac ‘n cheese. 

I teased and giggled with my little sister and talked video games and grad school with my baby brother. 

I watched football with my dad. (Well, not really. He watched and I read a book and checked in the score every now and then.)

I went Christmas shopping with my mom. 

I gave treats and belly rubs to my furry nibling. 

And then I joined my favorite people in the world to celebrate the 60th birthday of the queen of our lives. (She looks fantastic. So glad those good genes gave birth to me.)

Long live the Queen!


Now I’m on my way back to mycity  and my work and my day-to-day life. 

About a month ago, I said I was going to grieve and then go back to the fight. Looking at my activities over the last few weeks, it might seem like I’ve been just chilling, taking a break. But don’t get it twisted. As librarian, poet, black queer and feminist activist Audre Lorde made clear, self-care is “an act of political warfare.”

This is wisdom that goes way back for my people and many other marginalized folks, I’m sure: the best way to defeat your enemy is to live and love your living, even as you fight. That’s why so many mistakenly embrace the image of the happy slave as full historical truth. They miss the acts of intense physical, spiritual, and emotional warfare that looms behind those smiles: My enslaved ancestors weren’t happy or even accepting of their lot. But a major part of their strength to fight back, a powerful weapon in their arsenal, was their ability to continue to live, love, and laugh with all the dignity the oppressor tried to withhold from them. 

And that is what I do today. With every kiss, hug, shout of laughter, giggle, and burble of joy, I shoot a flaming F— YOU! at those who would try to deny me my joy, peace, and justice. I fight and I smile as I fight, not because the fighting is enjoyable but because this is my life and it is worth living. It is mine. 

So, I revel in my self-care. And I encourage you all to do the same. Sharpen those weapons and fill your enemies hearts with fear. 

Love and peace to you all. 

My favorite people on the planet.

That’s What I Know

Whenever my sibs and I say something obvious that my parents have been telling us for ages, my dad always gives the same reply,

That’s what I know.

His people are Gullah and I’m sure this is an English translation of a phrase the old folks used to say. 

Me: “Daddy, I just realized you were right about [something he and my mom have always known and said]!”

Daddy: “Hmph. That’s what I know.”

Pretty much everything that’s been happening after the election–the open spewing of hate, the resulting shock of people of privilege who had no idea all this was happening all along, the pleas from misguided peace seekers that we “all set aside our differences” and “try to find common ground”–it all has me repeating my dad’s words: That’s what I know. 

Those of us from marginalized communities, particularly people of color, especially, particularly women of color, have known about all this all along. We’ve known about the hate. We’ve known that it doesn’t just or even mostly live with the poor or uneducated; but it lives just as comfortably among the well-to-do and multi-degreed. We’ve known that there are otherwise perfectly “nice, decent” people who are willing to scream racial slurs at us on the street. Or paint swastikas on doors. Or deface places of daily prayer. We’ve known that the hate of the new administration’s supporters didn’t begin and so will not end with the new administration. 

We’ve known this oppression all along. We’ve suffered under it. And we’ve been saying it. Our parents and ancestors were saying it for centuries before us. We said it before the election. We’re saying it now. We’ll keep saying it. 

I understand that for some of you, this is your first time hearing and realizing. And that’s fine. Privilege can make things a bit hazy. You don’t know what you don’t know until you do know. 

But as you realize, you need to also acknowledge that what’s new to you is not new to everyone. In fact, it’s not new at all. It’s been here. It’s been around. It existed before your awakening. And it will continue to exist even after many of you forget. Or grow bored. Or move on. Because some of you will. You’ll sink back into the haze of your privilege and leave the rest of us to continue fighting. It’s harsh to hear, I’m sure, but that makes it no less true. 

For the rest of you committed to joining the fight to the end, welcome. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do. But we need you. This struggle is ugly, believe us. 

That’s what we know. 

November 9, 2016

I woke up this morning to the full realization that my country hates me and everyone like me.

I always knew it deep down. I talk about it. I write about it. But I guess I was still holding on to some naive notion that when faced with an explicit show of that hatred, my country would back down and back off, if for no other reason than to show good manners. To pretend to be better than it is.

Growing up black, you know your country doesn’t love you. It never has. And you wonder if it ever will. At best, it tolerates you with veiled disdain. At worst, it hunts you down and kills you, but at least has the decency later to pretend that it “wasn’t about race or oppression.”

It’s the same when you grow up brown, Asian, native, an immigrant, disabled, queer, nonbinary…

You learn to not be loved by your country. You even learn to be hated by your country. But you still hope somehow, somewhere, that there is some line that just won’t be crossed.

Well, you were wrong. We were all wrong. Our country hates us and is content to wallow openly in that hate, shove it in our faces even.

We won’t despair, though. Oh, we’re going to mourn and wail and scream in anger. We’re going to cry deep tears of heartbreak. But then we’re going to do what we always do when faced with the seemingly insurmountable strength of the oppressor.

We’re going to fight.

Throughout this whole cycle, my awesome parents have been so inspiring to me, even more so than usual. These are people who grew up in the south during the civil rights era. They know what it means to have the country’s hate all over their backs. But when I began to despair for the future, they always said, “No, don’t worry. We’ll be okay. We trust our God, and we always have. But our job is to look out for others. Look out for those with even less privilege than ours. Don’t get lost in your own despair. Stand up and fight for everyone.”

So that’s what I’m going to do. I will let my anger and tears fuel the fire. I will fight against the hate of my country. Because despite what so many others may think, it is MY country, too. And I WILL make it truly great again.

Let’s do this.

Welcome to Reality, Friends

In the U.S., we’re getting ready to elect a new president. Neither of the major party choices is great, but one is of particular heinousness this year. A lot of people have been talking about him and his heinousness, but honestly, his heinousness is not what I’m sick and tired of.

I’m sick and tired of all the well-meaning people of privilege who have all of a sudden woken up to find that oppression exists.

It feels like I’ve been surrounded by people—so-called “woke” people—who just can’t get over how appalling this candidate and his supporters are. They are traumatized and scandalized and flabbergasterized. And all I can think is

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Me, being so not impressed by your ignorant bliss

People who have lived with oppression are not surprised. We’re not flabbergasted or shocked or amazed. WE HAVE BEEN LIVING THIS AND TALKING ABOUT IT ALL ALONG. This candidate and his heinous views and words and actions are nothing new. His followers did not spring out of his head like the Gorgons’ snakes. They have always existed. They have always hated. We have always experienced—physically, mentally, emotionally—their hatred. It has hurt us. It has killed us. It still does.

If you are surprised by what’s going on in the U.S. right now, then you have been immensely privileged. You still are. You’ve been able to live in a bubble of blissful ignorance, even as many of you claim to be fully committed to the struggle as allies. You thought you were woke. You’ve been fast asleep.

This candidate’s rise to power and influence is not an anomaly. He is the natural product of the system of oppression under which those of us from marginalized identities have always lived. Welcome to reality, friends.

So now that you’re joining us in the land of the aware, what do you do? Wring your hands in despair? Cry about how awful the world “has become”? (Like it hasn’t always been this way for, like, ever.) Pester your friends from marginalized communities over and over about how they’re dealing with all this? (Same as we’ve been dealing with it for, like, ever.)

No.

Now, you fight. If you live in privilege, then this is your mess. You need to clean it up. You need to realize that it’s always been what it is, that you are, in fact, late to the game. You need to catch up and you need to get moving. Get over your shock and get to work.

I live in New York City, so bear with my little analogy here:

It’s like you wake up one evening and turn on the light to find a giant cockroach with bad hair and a fake tan in the middle of the floor. And you scream and holler and cry about how awful the giant cockroach is. And then you notice other cockroaches surrounding and supporting the giant cockroach and being just as awful. And you think, Oh noes! When did my apartment start being a place for horrible cockroaches full of hate?

Little do you realize that your apartment has always been full of cockroaches. In fact, your neighbor on the margins has known all about them. It’s dark on the margins and your neighbor has been covered in cockroaches the whole time. But you just didn’t see them. You had your lights out or you weren’t paying attention or whatever. All this time you thought you were committed to anti-cockroach praxis. But they’ve been there. They’ve always been there. They were there when you moved in and they’ll likely be there when you leave.

Unless you step up. But that means being proactive in combating the oppression of the horrible cockroaches all the time. Not just when your lights are on. Not just when you see the cockroach. All. The. Time. You gotta be putting out those traps and spraying that Raid. It’s a full-time job.

Let’s get over our privileged shock and despair and get to work, shall we? We’ve got some oppression we need to exterminate.

 

N.B. No cockroaches were harmed in the writing of this post. Also, I apologize to cockroaches everywhere for comparing them to a “basket of deplorables.”