I support the Un-Fair Campaign

There is controversy swirling around the web-o-verse about an antiracism awareness ad program begun in Duluth, MN, called the Un-Fair Campaign. Its aim is simple:

To look at racism and to encourage a community dialogue about the causes and solutions.

Sounds great, right?

Except that quite a lot of folks, it turns out, have a problem with it, not least of all because the campaign makes the suggestion that much responsibility for understanding the causes of and solutions to racism lies with whites. And as billboards around Duluth propose, “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white.”

This means that because whites reap so many of the lasting benefits of racism, it is difficult for us to perceive and understand an unfair, racist system today. Because, after all, as a group, we’re doing just fine.

But because it is difficult for many whites to perceive and understand racism today, it is difficult then for us to take a stand against it.

The campaign therefore challenges whites to take a much more critical look at racism and its historical and structural consequences today, so that we may begin to understand how racism has benefitted us and continues to benefit us. And so that we may begin to take steps to create a more socially just, equitable system.

Unfortunately, some people are having difficulty seeing this approach as a good thing. And while I do understand the concern from white people who feel a perception that we are being singled out for being racist simply because we benefit from racism, the reality is much deeper than that.

Whites who benefit from racism are not racist because they benefit from racism.

However, it is important to acknowledge that whites as a group absolutely do benefit from racism, even when they are not the ones actively perpetuating it. And to ignore that fact, perhaps, is then to passively condone it.

Further, to those whites that feel angered or slighted by the suggestion that they benefit from racism: I know. And I’m sorry. I know it sounds threatening. It sounds like someone is trying to take something from you, to tell you that you don’t work hard or that you don’t deserve what you have simply because you are white. And I’m sorry it sounds like that. I know.

But, for the most part, nobody is trying to take anything from you except your ignorance. Nobody is trying to take anything away from your hard work or your position, except for the ability to be oblivious to racism anymore. Your ability to ignore race and racism in your life is the only thing anybody is trying to take from you at this point. And that’s a good thing, I promise. It’s what we all say we want: Social Justice. Equality.

Racism is structural and grants privileges. And of course, privileges exist in a variety of forms, not just in regard to skin color. Men are privileged in this country, oftentimes regardless of race. Heterosexuals are certainly privileged in this country, again often regardless of race. Christians are absolutely privileged in this country, mostly regardless of race. And those of us born into comfortable middle or upper class socioeconomic niches are of course more privileged in this country, regardless of race.

And while it is important to understand each of the ways that privileges benefit and don’t benefit the making of our individual identities, just because these many different forms of privilege exist doesn’t make any one of them by themselves less valid.

So whereas I can walk into a conference room in my profession, and be damn assured that the majority of people in the room will be people of my same race, no matter how male, hetero, Christian, or wealthy a black colleague of mine may be, he does not benefit from that same privilege when he walks into the same room.

That is a privilege that I have that my black colleague does not have. And while it’s easy to scoff at the notion and suggest that something like race shouldn’t make any difference, I promise, it does. And we cannot be oblivious to that. We can’t ignore that anymore.

The tough irony of the position of the opposition to the Un-Fair Campaign, then, is that white people getting angry and arguing that they don’t see racism is pretty precisely the point of the campaign in the very first place: that “it’s hard to see racism when you’re white.” So by some people getting up in arms about being called out on the inability to see racism, those people have just proved the campaign’s point exactly.

I definitely support the Un-Fair Campaign and what it is doing for advancing necessary and critical social justice education about racism. I will be able to take a lot from this campaign and use it in my own work on a college campus and in my life as a parent. And I wonder what others in higher ed positions might glean from this campaign and how we can continue to infuse our campuses with critical dialog and thought. And fairness.

20 thoughts on “I support the Un-Fair Campaign

  1. “Further, to those whites that feel angered or slighted by the suggestion that they benefit from racism”

    It’s not that which induces anger, it’s this statement:

    “But, for the most part, nobody is trying to take anything from you except your ignorance.”

    Just because a person’s white, they must be ignorant of racism?Just because a person is white, they must have benefited at the expense of someone who is another race? Those judgements themselves are based on the color of a person’s skin. How are those preconceived notions based on skin color not the very definition racism?

    • That’s reasonable. No, certainly I don’t mean to suggest that just because a person is white, they are ignorant of racism. In fact, I included the line in the post that supposes that “whites who benefit from racism are not racist because they benefit from racism.”

      I’d never call a person racist. And that’s not what I mean to do. I am, however, concerned with understanding racism within the systems we operate in. So I do believe that the answer to your second question is more often “yes” than “no.” More often, then, yes, I think because a person is white, they have benefited from racism. Historically, I don’t have to be a slave-owner to benefit from the slave system that produced, for instance, the shirt I wear.

      But it’s not a blame thing–at least it’s not for me. But I can understand why it sounds like it sometimes. That has made me extremely careful to find the right way to word things–and I’m still figuring it out. But it’s not a blame thing–unless we blame years and years of racism and bigotry and slavery and colonialism. But just because I benefit from those things today, still–and I believe I do–doesn’t mean I am racist or I am an asshole or I am out to bring people down. To a certain extent–though it’s not satisfying–it’s just the way things are.

      Now, what I try to impart among students–and what I support the Un-Fair Campaign for creating–is more awareness about the history of racism and bigotry and slavery and colonialism. Because even though I didn’t actively go out and do any of those things, they still happened. And now, just in education, for instance–the field, you understand, that I work in and study all day long every day–African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and especially Native Americans all succeed at lower levels than white and European students; they graduate at lower levels across the country, receive lower test scores, report higher levels of stress, drop out at higher rates… These are data-driven statistics we look at every day.

      Racism, in my opinion, simply enough, is the belief that one group of people is inherently better than another group of people because of their skin color. I don’t believe that. Nor would I accuse anyone else of believing that. So if we don’t believe that whites are “better” than other groups because of their skin color, then we must work to identify what it is that DOES create those unequal results in things, for instance, like education. And we cannot ignore skin color and still be able to figure that out.

      That is what I am interested in.

      • “So I do believe that the answer to your second question is more often “yes” than “no.” More often, then, yes, I think because a person is white, they have benefited from racism.”

        It may happen often, but not always. The message of the campaign seems to imply that just because a person is white, they MUST have benefited from the color of their skin. What about affirmative action? Surely a perfectly qualified white person must have lost a job to a person of another race just because he is white.

        “Now, what I try to impart among students–and what I support the Un-Fair Campaign for creating–is more awareness about the history of racism and bigotry and slavery and colonialism. Because even though I didn’t actively go out and do any of those things, they still
        happened.”

        That is true, but why must a white person feel guilty of these things now because what their ancestors did? Why not teach the history without the negative connotations the campaign brings along with it; that a white person has difficulty seeing racism because s/he is white?

        “African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and especially Native Americans all succeed at lower levels than white and European students; they graduate at lower levels across the country, receive lower test scores, report higher levels of stress, drop out at higher rates”

        This may be (somewhat) true, but is race to blame? Do whites have higher test scores because they are white? Also, statistically speaking, Asians have the highest graduation rates. Are we to say that they have higher graduation rates because of their race; that they are more likely to succeed because of the privileges that the color of their skin gives them?

        Source:

        http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_31.htm

        http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/graduation-rates-by-state-and-race/

        http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/Rankings.aspx?state=WA&ind=4464

        My main issue with this campaign is not that it blames anyone. It’s the whole concept of “white privilege”. It is a Boogeyman based on assumptions, and it paints all white people with the same brush- which is generalizing, which is discrimination.

      • You’ve given me a lot to think about here and I certainly will.

        A couple very quick thoughts:

        “What about affirmative action? Surely a perfectly qualified white person must have lost a job to a person of another race just because he is white.”

        Affirmative action has its heart in the right place and usually (though, not always) I am in support of it. But with affirmative action please recognize that what you’ve suggested is not affirmative action, in its proper form. With affirmative action a “perfectly qualified white person” did not lose a job to a “person of another race” simply because he is white. That’s not what affirmative action is. However, affirmative action encourages that a “highly qualified white person” should not get a job over a HIGHLY QUALIFIED person of color–especially within a company, or organization, or institution that shows obvious and unequal distributions.

        Does that make sense? So no highly qualified white person loses a job or a position or a promotion because he or she is white. Rather, a highly qualified white person should not be hired over another highly qualified person of color because that promotes a more healthy and fair balance of authority and collaboration.

        “That is true, but why must a white person feel guilty of these things now because what their ancestors did? Why not teach the history without the negative connotations the campaign brings along with it; that a white person has difficulty seeing racism because s/he is white?”

        I know. I really do. I hate the guilty feeling and for a long time it owned me. Sometimes it still does. But I don’t think white people have to or should feel guilty about what happened before us–at least not in the sense that we are personally to blame. Because I think you’d agree, we didn’t do it, right? But the point is that we still benefit from it. So, you ask, “why not teach history without the negative connotation?” Because, when did anybody ever solve anything by ignoring it? It’s a difficult thing for me to wrap my head around when it is suggested to me that we… simply… pretend negative things didn’t happen. Medical doctors didn’t get together in the 1950s and say to each other: “Polio is really really terrible. But let’s pretend it doesn’t exist and see if it will just go away on its own.” No, they studied the problem, learned about its causes and consequences. And now it’s gone. I don’t believe for a second–and I do feel strongly about this–that ignoring a problem like racism will make it go away.

        The campaign, I think, helps to make racism more visible–sometimes in uncomfortable ways–for the purpose of making it something we don’t ignore. White privilege is a huge part of identifying the causes and consequences of racism. Because for a large majority, it is something we don’t see very often and that can be easily ignored. And again, I don’t think ignoring something makes it go away.

        “is race to blame? Do whites have higher test scores because they are white?”

        “Is race to blame?” No. But racism is. Not individuals. But racism. The whole idea.

        “Do whites have higher test scores because they are white?” No. But whites have benefited from racism throughout history and one of the ways they have benefited is through education. That is changing every day, but not because we ignore the causes and consequences of racism. We just can’t ignore it.

        Thank you for the links. I’ll be able to look through them soon. And I appreciate the comments, too. They help me think through all of this more thoroughly.

      • “Rather, a highly qualified white person should not be hired over another highly qualified person of color because that promotes a more healthy and fair balance of authority and collaboration.”

        The idea that a qualified white person should not be hired over another qualified person of color seems, to me, to promote discrimination. Ideally, race should not be an issue. When there is an unequal distribution between people of different races, there is greater chance that a person of another race may have an advantage over a white person. When there is an unequal distribution, it may (but not always) follow that an employer may feel compelled to choose someone over an equally (or more) viable white person based on race as to not show racial preference towards whites.

        “So, you ask, “why not teach history without the negative connotation?” Because, when did anybody ever solve anything by ignoring it?”

        I think you may have misinterpreted what I said. I don’t mean the negative things in the past that have happen, but the somewhat discriminatory basis and the “white guilt” message of the campaign. I don’t think we should ignore the “white privilege” that occurs, but there has to be a better way to approach it than to paint all white people as being privileged and being better off just because they are white – because not all are, and certainly there has to have been at least some cases in which a person lost out because they are white.
        (Just one example: http://www.wnd.com/2004/01/22929/ )

        “No. But racism is. Not individuals. But racism. The whole idea… Whites have benefited from racism throughout history and one of the ways they have benefited is through education.”

        I’m finding it difficult to agree with this statement: that whites have benefited through education based solely on the fact that they are white. In my opinion, unless it’s blatant, it would be difficult to prove or show that teachers have special preference towards whites and that is the only reason they score higher. Correlation does not imply causation and thus just because there is a correlation between low test scores and people of color, it does necessarily mean that the person’s race, discrimination or racism is the reason to blame (at least in this case).

        All in all, I suppose I don’t fully disagree with the intent of the campaign, that is to show people the subtle racism that happens. But I do think they are going about it the wrong way; to imply that white people have difficulty seeing racism and that ALL white people MUST have benefited from the color of their skin. The campaign also seems to assume that people of other races are immune to benefiting from or expressing racism themselves, when surely that isn’t true. I feel that this campaign perpetuates discrimination against white and further divides the community.
        Even the examples of white privilege given on the Campaign’s page seem a bit farfetched and discriminatory (http://unfaircampaign.org/about-us/f-a-q/)
        I have never had those thoughts and it seems discriminatory to assume that white people must have those thoughts. I don’t know what their stance is on people of non-color mixed races, but I certainly haven’t experienced anything like that (I guess white people don’t mind Asians?).

  2. Tobias? have YOU ever been out of your little white shell? have you never been in the SOUTH? Have you never been in Michigan? I am as white as white can be, and I have MANY times walked into a meeting, store, movie theatre and been the ONLY white there, and you are going to add THAT one to the list of “Whiteness Issues” I have?? Dude, I AM, and never have been racist in any way, even when i was young, and there was a LOT of racism and discrimination happening, and YOU are going to define ME? It slays me the way someone that is looked upon as so smart, can sound SO ignorant!

    • I am not defining you. At all. I am not calling you or anyone else a racist. At all. If the concern is that you think I am calling all whites racist because they are white, I am not. And I agree with you, nobody is racist simply because of the color of their skin.

      It’s also not the point to compare experiences, as if my being in 12 uncomfortable situations somehow loses out to your 14.

      But I have been in similar situations. And I have known others who have been in those situations. And maybe a point that differs is our particular contexts but one thing that I believe is different between my experience and the experiences of people of color–for the most part–is that I have a greater degree of latitude to pick and choose when and where I have those experiences, whereas people of color do not always have that choice.

      That’s my experience.

      And I do appreciate the comments, because it helps me formulate responses and helps me continually evaluate education and my own life.

  3. So you want to know why some of your students don’t graduate, or don’t advance in their career, or don’t get just treatment in society and you’ve identified them by color so it must be that color disadvantages them???…which equates to those of the color that succeeds at a greater percentage in this evaluation, must be ignorant of the plight of your disadvantaged group?? Is that the basis of your argument? But, those in the higher percentage, they never fail on the basis of your evaluation? or do they? so, in actuality, the group of those not graduating, not advancing, having unjust treatment includes some in this other group, but you ignore that component. But, unless you look for a common denominator in the entire set, you are skewing the evaluation. I argue that it is not color that defines, determines the participation in the group you are concerned about. Because if truth be told, there are also some in the group defined as unfairly disadvantaged that actually succeed, and do very well. So again, the common denominator isn’t color. I believe some poor assumptions are being used to determine what actually lies at the root of the very concern you state you want to assist.

    • Yes, of course other things intersect. Race is not the end-all-be-all of why a student or any person succeeds or fails, nor is it the only predictor. And you’re right to point out other underlying predictors. Just a few of those are sometimes gender, geography, and socio-economic status. And each one is valid and has mountains of data to support it. It doesn’t make any one of them, however, by themselves, less valid. And the truth is there isn’t just one thing–one common denominator–to point to successes and failures. But again, that doesn’t make any one of them less valid. And I don’t believe ignoring race, unfortunately, is the answer to solving the problem of why, taken as groups, some groups just seem to have different outcomes.

  4. What about the breakdown of the nuclear family or the absence of a father in the home. Tobias, do you have any statistics that compare the numbers of divorces, single-parent families, children born out of wedlock by race? Is the profound instability of a small child’s environment the real issue here? Is that the common denominator to the low graduation rates, high crime/prison populations, etc. If so, the focus most certainly should not be on white privilege. That’s a red herring. And it’s criminal to waste all this energy on it. The focus should be on finding how to repair these families and provide stability for these children.

    • Of course. Of course there are statistics about divorces, single-parent families, children born out of wedlock. There are statistics about gender, socio-economic status, the education levels of the parents, sexual orientation, geography, generation, and favorite ice cream flavors. And there are statistics about race.

      None is invalid. Each one is shown to impact something like education (which is not certainly the only thing worth looking at). Race included.

      However, what I have come to understand–and again, what I support the Un-Fair Campaign for pointing out–is that a very many of those things we just mentioned–divorces, single-parent families, socio-economic disparities, geography, parent education–a very many of those things have been impacted by a history of racism for hundreds of years, so much so that we cannot ignore the very real, very profound significance of how much racism has played a part in ordering those disparities throughout history.

      That is to say that when social scientists (of which I am not) break down divorces, single-parent families, children born out of wedlock, and other environmental instabilities–which you absolutely rightly point out–they are able to show how much those disparities can be broken down by race and have been affected by racism.

      Of course, neither of us believe disparities exist because of any inherent superiority/inferiority. Nevertheless they exist. I don’t believe white privilege is a red herring. I believe it is a fundamental result of hundreds of years of racist systems, systems which neither one of us created or endorse, but which were established nonetheless. We cannot ignore the impact that slavery (and slavery is the easy one to identify), for instance, has had on this country. Yes, it’s over. But the effects are still visible. They are still visible when we look at things like divorces, single parent families, and environmental disparities.

      You are absolutely right to point out environmental concerns. They are very real. I just believe they happen to have been created out of racism. And if nothing else (and this is already a huge, huge thing, I think)–if nothing else I aim simply to continue to be aware of where and how racism might have played a part in creating the disparities that we see, not just in education, and that might have benefitted me. And I think it is a Good, a healthy thing, to be aware of them, not to feel guilty about them but to be conscious not to want to continue them, if even just in our own private lives.

  5. Thanks Tobias. I appreciate your very thoughtful answers. This is a good discussion. I just think, given the dismal graduation rates and other statistics, let’s act now to try to repair the families and stabilize life for this generation. From what I’ve learned of the doctrine of ‘white privilege’, it’s a very long term thing. By the time it gets all figured out, it could be too late.

  6. This is a very important discussion, absolutely. And I agree with you entirely that we could use a lot more urgency.

    All these dismal stats. They are going to take thoughtful solutions. The Un-Fair Campaign won’t (can’t) do it by itself, and I don’t think it intends to. Nor should it have to. What is sometimes difficult in these conversations is for participants–everyone–to realize that we’re all more or less after the same end(s). And I want to hope–if it’s not too naive–that we can collaborate each of these “angles” for a more united front, as it were, in the effort to stabilize our societies–even on the most local levels.

  7. Thanks for a great explanation. It’s interesting that you would take all of the white people and lump them into one category, much as any other bigot does and assume them to be privileged, to be ahead of the game somehow. Unique outlook really, to promote bigotry in the name of stopping it, to promote that white people are not to be viewed as individuals, but should be seen as the enemy somehow. Disparity does not promote equity nor does separatism bring people together. While your intent is good, your methodology is faulty and your logic ill-conceived. Perhaps intentionally? By the way, I am Native American and have received those looks and that kind of behavior. I had friends who were afraid to visit my house because of the way that my father looked.. I’m also a female firefighter. The first nationally certified one in a goodl ole boys club in a small town in Pennsylvania. I KNOW bigotry.. and I still believe you’ve got the wrong answer.

    • Thank you. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I also have been a firefighter. I understand how difficult it must be for you. And I do still stand by my support of this campaign. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

      • I do NOT support this campaign and I’m quite determined after seeing it to do all that I can to draw attention away from it and ensure that it is NOT seen unless your advertising changes.. and here is why. You do not take white people, black people or ANY kind of person, and write comments that lump them into a single category.You do not slam people simply to get attention. that makes you a bigot and a fool. It makes you someone who like any political figure will seek out the cheapest and sleeziest way to market something to make it visible..

        What you have done here is ABSOLUTELY no different at ALL than for me to say. all Native Americans are drunks and All black people are lazy and ALL Mexicans have greasy hair. . MANY people who are white DO know what racism is.. they live with it EVERY day. they are married to black people or Hispanic people or may EVEN be victims of prejudice about their age, or their medical condition. They may not intimately KNOW racism, but they know prejudice and one kind is NO different than another.

        l believe that you particularly do not in this kind of economy, draw attention to your stupid and cheap campaign to the4 detriment of others.. and that is precisely what you do when you are promoting white people or ANY people as the obligatory privileged. To label them as privileged with the problems in the world today is REPREHENSIBLE.

        Did you know that one out of five white children do not know when or if they will get their next meal? Are you aware that one of every twenty white children do not have medical insurance? That many are missing teeth and try to fall asleep with pain from a toothache or hunger because they can’t afford something better.

        These are the people you are labeling as privileged and denying them the right to be seen or heard, denying them the right to have their pain count or matter to soomeone because YOU LABELED THEM. LUMPED them into a category of privileged people who just somehow don’t deserve any more consideration.. Yes, it makes me angry and YES, anyone who can plan and execute ANY campaign that lumps everyone into a single category, without knowing THEM or what they have to live with.. is a thoughtless, careless, fool.

      • Again, thank you for your comments. This is a very challenging thing. And I am sorry you are angry. I get angry too. And while your stats about white families may be true and may be compelling, please understand that those numbers are far worse, on the whole, in communities of color. You are right to point out that they exist, and they need to be dealt with. But just because another form of oppression exists, it doesn’t mean this one does not. For example, if I said I support Breast Cancer Awareness, you would not then chastise me for not caring about all other forms of cancer or all other medical problems, correct? And so it is with the Un-Fair Campaign. Through my education and professional development I have come to learn and know about the existence of privilege and power. It doesn’t ever mean that there are not a myriad of other social problems that need to be addressed, as well. In any event, you do not know me from anyone so it does seem a little absurd that you would resort to those comments about me personally, even while instructing me not to label others. Again, thank you for thinking about this with me; it is a good thing to consider difficult subjects like this.

      • As you are using real names, I will also do so.

        Firstly let me say that I agree with the goals of this woman and I find them laudable,but the tactics are no different than those which are used to do any other kind of cheap Walmart-style advertising that cuts down another group to draw attention to the first one.

        Your question as regards Breast cancer awareness is certainly viable, but let me pose one to you. Would you support breast cancer by saying that uterine cancer was not worthy of support and those who died of it weren\’t worth my attention? Not if you were a truly thoughtful person who cared about the welfare of other people. Have you considered the backlash, the blowback from the kind of campaign that you\’re supporting?

        One race is of lesser value, is less able to understand. Effectively you are practicing bigotry to prevent bigotry. Putting down ANY race is bigotry. stating that ANY group, based on their race, is incapable of achieving something.. in this case, incapable of understanding prejudice or racism, is effectively practicing racism. You\’re using the very bigotry that you decry, as a tool to promote the cause of anti-racism. The campaign–for any sentient being, lacks verisimilitude by virtue of the way in which is it presented.

        I was quite heavily into SOPA and PIPA and worked to see that removed. The reason that campaign worked was this. .It did NOT function on a negative premise. It succeeded by bringing together millions of people in a cohesive, functional group. Had we simple campaigned to slam the government group who began it without offering solutions, without using real information IN THE CAMPAIGN about what makes it wrong, it would not have achieved the ends that it did.

        You cannot promote racial equality by saying that one race is somehow unequal or less deserving.You\’ve become that which you fight. In effect, that is the tactic that you are supporting.

        This campaign functions solely on a negative premise. It doesn\’t really try to bring people together, but rather,to achieve notoriety, it offers a negative start designed to create conflict, which of course it has done, but what else has it achieved?

        To date, absolutely nothing, which is the fate of most campaigns designed and built around negativity and denigration of one single group. Promoting a national racial diversity awareness day, setting up multiple blogs and gathering groups of people to promote that in the same way that you are promoting the negative anti-white sentiment would be a viable option, but one that it seems you\’ve overlooked. Opening dialogue between RACES, not just between you and I, or you and four other people who hate what you\’re doing.. that is a tactic that works. Setting up coalitions that can actively work to support racial diversity and draw in other people in a positive way and to talk on neutral ground is an answer too.

        This campaign does very little more than stir racial tension and anger. Black people see it and say .\”YES. they ARE privileged, I don\’t want to be friends with them with this unfair advantage\”. In any group of people who were angered by this. you\’ve promoted hate crimes and violence by this kind of advertising. and what did you achieve.. …. How many white people. your target.. see it and say. \”I lost my house last year and have no work and I am privileged??I am the target..how dare they?\” So you lost that audience too. They feel picked on, singled out and again..do not support it.

        What your campaign does is promote violence and ensure that more hard feelings are created than you actually alleviated. SOME people will think about what you\’re saying, most will simply chalk you up as a hatemonger… someone who is promoting and encouraging racial tension, and move on.

        Let me pose another question to you. What kind of person would I be, were I to post a campaign that says the same thing about the entire black race, or the entire Hispanic community? Is that A GOOD campaign, and if not why not? when applying a single statement to an entire race is bigotry if that race is a minority, then same principles that apply to THAT campaign, , slamming them for their inability as an entire race to accomplish something.. IS bigotry…the same should hold true for this one, or you are becoming the very thing that you decry… Staring too long into the abyss…

        Respectfully, Robbi Drake.

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