About Not Making Nice

[NB: Check the byline – this is a personal essay by me, Rayne.]

Not long ago my mother told me about an incident she found puzzling. She has an odd habit of telling me certain uncomfortable stories in a casual manner, sandwiched between other day-to-day topics; it may take some mental stuttering before I realize what it was she really told me.

Like the time she was talking about her shift in the emergency room and dropped in a passing remark that humans burnt to a crisp smell like chicken. She simply continued on, “Last night was so busy, there must have been a full moon…”

And of course I realized then as I picked my jaw up from off the floor that she needed to unload or run mad with PTSD. We share the horror she dumped on me but at least she was validated and she’s not alone with her burden.

This summer over lunch at a quaint little cafe she told me the refrigerator and stove in my parents’ Florida home needed to be replaced. My father went to the local Big Box Hardware Behemoth to replace them using the store’s credit card.

The store called her and asked her if she knew someone had the store card and was buying appliances with it. “Yes, my husband has the card,” she told the cashier. “How odd was that?” she asked me, before taking a bite from her salad and telling me about the new appliances.

Wait. Back the fuck up. I know my eyes must have bugged out of my head at this point. I asked her to repeat everything she said. My dad had a Big Box store credit card he opened to buy building supplies and appliances when they built their home a dozen years ago. He’s used it without problem up north. But now, in Florida this summer, he was told to wait until the cashier looked up his home’s hardline phone number and called the house to make sure he’s legit.

He had his fucking driver’s license and other forms of ID on him, mind you. And the cashier still called the house.

The nice white lady with the northern Midwest accent at the home number vouched for him.

The nice brown-skinned guy sporting a darker-than-usual tan because he’s been on the golf course a lot was cleared to buy appliances with his own goddamn credit card.

“Mom, that was discriminatory behavior. The cashier was racist. She just treated Dad like a second-class citizen,” I told her.

“No. Why would they do that?” She was in denial, but deep down she knew better or she would never have brought it up and slipped into our lunch chat like a rotten wedge of tomato eased onto the top of a salad.

The other person joining us for lunch gave me a side-eye and a nod. We both know my mom was both uncomfortable with what happened and yet unable to grasp the ramifications that her Asian-Pacific Islander husband, who looks like he could be Filipino or Latinx, was just treated like dirt while she wasn’t there with him to extend her invisible white privilege.

But that was just a single microaggression. There may be worse ahead.

After several reports that ICE has been randomly boarding public transportation and asking people for their identity papers, I’ve told my mother to make sure my dad carries his ID everywhere, all the time. I’ve told her to make sure her to make sure if he leaves the house he tells her where he’s headed and for how long, in case he suddenly disappears.

I can’t tell my father this. He’s a conservative, brainwashed into thinking this stuff only happens to other undeserving people, not a military veteran like him. This credit card thing was just a quirky one-off from his perspective. Never mind that the current occupant of the White House cast aspersions on the value of a birth certificate issued in Honolulu for more than a decade — which is the only kind of birth certificate my father has, born in what was then an American territory.

And never mind that ICE has picked up brown-skinned American citizens and detained them.

Mom struggled with my admonitions as much as she struggled with the idea of a racist cashier. She’s college educated, has multiple degrees in STEM fields, but she can’t see what’s in front of her, blinded by a lifetime of white privilege. She has to buffer it to accept it just the way she drops ugly things in the middle of the most innocuous conversations.

This summer my mother also dropped another nugget mid-chat; my kid brother was worried about the political environment especially because of his wife and kids. My brother is adopted, of AAPI heritage, and his spouse is of Latinx descent. They live in the Midwest near a large city, so they aren’t the only people of color in a sea of Caucasians. But they are still worried based on the little bit my mom wove into her download. Apparently my mom’s worried, too, even if she struggles to articulate what’s bothering her.

I’ve lived with the dull background noise of racism my whole life. I pass for white thanks to my mom’s StayPuft marshmallow-like genetics. My sister doesn’t pass, nor does my other brother by birth. My adopted brother definitely doesn’t pass. By passing I hear and see stuff my siblings don’t, the kind of racism white people have been reluctant to display openly but have no problem sharing when in a crowd they believe to be all white like them. This administration gave these closeted racists permission to come out and share their ugliness. They think they don’t have to spare anybody else’s feelings any more — literally, wearing t-shirts at Trump campaign rallies that read, “Fuck Your Feelings.”

With their newfound openness, I don’t need to take the time to make nice and get to know people who openly declare their belief I am not entitled to the same rights they have at best, and at worst lack the right to exist. I’m worried about family members, all Americans by birth, two of them military veterans, being detained and denied their rights simply because they are not white. I’m worried family members who are minors and in K-12 education are dealing with harassment which interferes with their learning.

Imagine how much worse this must be for African Americans. I have only just started to worry about my brother or father while their driving their car, only whether ICE will show up and nab one of them while they cut their grass, mistaking them for immigrants working as landscapers. African Americans have lived with this every day.

Making nice with racists to get inside their heads is a luxury some of us really can’t afford. Exit your denial; don’t mistake manners-as-survival-tactic for our acceptance of those who would rather see some of us dead.

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47 replies
  1. TheraP says:

    My husband is white. But he speaks with a thick Spanish accent. (Grew up in Spain.) He’s old, with a mostly bald head and mostly white beard. He drives a 19 year old sedan. A Mercedes.

    About a year ago, driving on the highway back to our retirement community in a Midwest City, he witnessed a car accident. And stopped behind the car (that had been hit by a tractor trailer). He gave some advice to the young woman, who had experience of handling an accident. Told her to phone her insurance, offered to give her a short lift.

    Soon a very suspicious policeman arrived. Though my husband assured him he was only a witness, the officer demanded to see his license & his registration! (My spouse, a man with a Ph.D., knew exactly what was happening!)

    Only in the last decade or so have I been concerned that simply because I have a Hispanic last name (due to marriage), someone will contest me at the polls – when I go to vote.

    Things have definitely taken a turn for the worse!

    • Rayne says:

      Yes. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

      I remember a particular long chat with a Dutch friend about 2000; he told me he so looked forward to his vacations in the U.S. because we were an open, free society. He hated seeing police in Europe’s airports, armed to the teeth like their military. I thought he was putting me on until I went to Europe for the first time that year.

      And then 9/11 changed everything. Everyone looked at “the other” with suspicion. It’s only gotten worse because there’s profit to be made in xenophobia.

      Now Trump’s made it culturally acceptable to be openly ugly to “the other,” not merely suspicious.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    You don’t think much, then, about David Brooks and his instructions for how to be civil and gain legislative victories concerning contentious issues:  “Be nice to your opponents, and if and when they reciprocate, they’ll give you a cookie (but no yes votes on your legislation).”  :-)

    [Brooks, of course, is trying to geld advocates of change, because he’s a vastly overpaid right wing apologist.]

    One suggestion for your mom are the graphics that show ICE’s definition of the “border”.  It is all of America within 100 miles of its borders with Canada, Mexico and the sea.  About 80% of the US population lies within that zone.  It includes the East, West and Gulf coasts, all of Florida and much of New England, all of Michigan and much of the Midwest.  It include all of New York except perhaps Ithaca.  The Florida bit in particular might make her stop short and listen to your suggestions.

    ICE used to content itself with boarding intercity buses at station stops.  It has expanded that to “random” checks at local city buses and stations, virtually any form of public transit with its “border zone”.  It is allowed to stop all traffic at regular check points – it uses them frequently on the interstates between San Diego and LA, and between them and the southern routes to Arizona and New Mexico.  It is not technically allowed to make random, individual stops along the highway.  But I’ve heard reports it gets around that restriction without much ado.

    Your worries are reasonable.  ICE’s conduct is not, even on a cost-benefit analysis, let alone a human one.  The game seems to be to advance the threat of the punitive state.  It’s working.  It’s also reversible, but not under Trump and Sessions.

    • Rayne says:

      My parents have homes in Michigan and Florida. Since Dad’s in his mid-80s, I don’t see that changing any time soon, and if it does, Dad will be a brown guy in a warmer state where he might be looked at with more suspicion than he is right now. I can only hope he will be able to coast through the rest of his naive American conservative life without being asked for his papers, let alone detained by ICE.

      And fuck David fucking Brooks and his white cis-het male privilege blindness. What an unthinking idiot; I don’t know why the NYT pays this guy for such thoughtless drivel.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        We see Brooks in the same light.  If I were a NYT’s shareholder, I’d wonder why it was paying over $1.5 million to David, and similar amounts to the bench of “conservatives” on its roster.

        The bit about being checked for using his own credit card is daunting and likely to get worse in border states.  Your suggestions are important ones for your parents to think about.  If nothing else, it will make your mom more aware when she fields similar calls in the future.

      • TheraP says:

        OMG! David Brooks… don’t get me started!

        For countless years I have been trying to pin down for myself what exactly about his writing – his strange, empty, emotionless sentences that seem to float off and never take a true or vivid or grounded stand on anything – drives me up a wall!

        I rarely can stomach more than paragraph or two. He is a blight upon the NYTimes and the word “pundit”. A man with a simple B.S. Which accurately describes what he writes!

        • Rayne says:

          It’s as if Brooks never really interacts directly with humans, like he’s a permanent Bubble Boy who hazards guesses about the world from inside his bubble-wrapped cocoon. And they’re nearly always part wrong if not wholly wrong.

          I can’t think of a single Brooks’ op-ed in his ~14 years with NYT that made me think, “Wow, I want to share that with others because it’s so good.”

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Brooks has a “natural talent” for punditry, like putting in golf or packing heat in a first grade classroom.

          Brooks’s audience seems to be the owner class that wants to feel “informed” about the “culture” they studiously avoid or oppose – from a butler in kid gloves, who speaks softly and never carries a stick, except to use it on DFHs and uncivil people of all stripes.

          Brooks’s donor class wants to be reassured that there’s a serious philosophical reason – in the ether – for their inevitable success and for the righteousness of their real life predation.  Who you gonna call?

        • Erin McJ says:

          You may be amused by this by Andrew Gelman – “the unbearable terribleness of David Brooks” is one of his bloggy pastimes.

          [Fixed the embedding on your link; you may have hand coded the HTML instead of using the Link tool? Thanks for sharing! /~Rayne]

  3. yogarhythms says:

    Rayne,

    I agree with your intuitive assessments for all of your families interactions with emboldened xenophobic racists. However an older concept is at play here. Namely divide and conquer.  The Palace is  spewing hate from all platforms faster than all but NSA can keep up. If we succumb to calling out the racist actor with equal volume we are falling for the trap. I’m not denying reality I’m asking for a thoughtful response one calculated to assist the vulnerable while not pouring fuel on a bonfire of hate.

    • Rayne says:

      Are you advocating the minority shut up and make nice, just so a white minority don’t make things worse for people like you? Really? If anything the non-racist majority needs to pipe up and stand by the targeted “other.” This isn’t just about race or ethnicity, either, it’s about every issue that makes fellow humans “the other,” like gender identity and sexual orientation.

      In short, cis-het white who claim they aren’t racist/xenophobic need to step up and help, or consign themselves to history as this generation’s “good Germans.”

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Sounds like David Brooks, who tells the left to display southern manners so that the right can live in the big house and be civil about it.

  4. TarheelDem says:

    It now has an analytical name — majoritarianism.  And it has zero to do with democracy.  There is an international following of majoritarian nations, now Trump’s birds of a feather.

    ICE’s actions are purely to ensure that Trump’s majority exists in perpetuity.  So are the actions of other law enforcement agencies.  That’s why the opiate crisis is giving conservatives such a heartburn. Under current policy , there will be white felons who cannot vote — just not Rush Limbaugh.

    And there is local panic about an new rainbow majority ever taking general power in the United States.  The reality of that possibility dawned on people with the re-election (the election was a hint) of Barack Obama.  The majoritarians feed that narrative of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that a new majority will indeed operate government for everyone (the general public) without discrimination.

    • Rayne says:

      Unfortunately, “majoritarian” is to “white nationalism” what “alt-right” is to “Nazi.” It’s a spiffy bow on a bag of dog poo.

        • Rayne says:

          ~nods~

          I wish you knew how much I’ve typed in this space only to delete it because I’m making nice about this march toward apartheid.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Let’s ask a former RNC chair, who got his job only because he was a person of color.  Front desk, affirmative action, you know.  When the GOP begins to act like a rugby team that crash landed in the Andes, it might be time to call the march a fast trot.

  5. gmoke says:

    “I’ve told my mother to make sure my dad carries his ID everywhere, all the time. I’ve told her to make sure her to make sure if he leaves the house he tells her where he’s headed and for how long, in case he suddenly disappears.”

    This is not the country we pretended (sometimes well, sometimes not) to be.  It is the beginning of creeping (and creepy) authoritarianism.  Reading Every Man Dies Alone right now, a novel about living under and trying to resist Hitler.  This kind of random surveillance can escalate quickly.  Resist now, any way you can, no matter how small.

  6. cfost says:

    A life- changing event for me was reading Theodore W. Allen’s The Invention of the White Race, vol I & II. Race as we know it is not an accident of genetics, it is a brilliant commercial and political strategy. It was instituted in order to maintain social control and to preserve cheap (almost free) labor. I offer the book for your consideration.
    Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Empire, I was working in Uzbekistan. All of the ethnic Russians had left, which meant there were many empty apartments. My employer put me up in one of these. One day, as I was taking a shower after work, the police came to the door banging loudly and continuously. As I tried to crack the door open to see who it was, a huge officer blew past me and the door. I was left there standing naked and dripping while they searched the apt. Then they abruptly left. No explanation, no nothing. Later I learned it was because I was a foreigner.
    A year or so later, shortly after Pinochet was out of power, I learned the Chilean version of “zee papers, please.” But most outrageous, in 1996, I was driving from my mother’s home in Hot Springs to Memphis to see a friend, when I was pulled over for some bs reason and then told I could wait in jail or wait by the side of the road while the guys in the windbreakers with POLICE written on the back searched my vehicle for drugs because “I fit the profile” and put all of my belongings outside in the mud.
    These things leave a mark, and they stay with you.
    Anger led to the institution of a new government here in North America all those years ago…

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Chris Matthews at MSNBC goes there. He asks former federal prosecutor about RICO – and is politely put down.

  8. 4jkb4ia says:

    Actual David Brooks Quote(TM):

    So if you want to stop school shootings it’s not enough just to vent and march. It’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points. There has to be trust and respect first. Then we can strike a compromise on guns as guns, and not some sacred cross in the culture war.

    I would interpret that as not simply “making nice”. I think that Brooks could be agreeing with the person who wrote the angry letter in response to that column saying that most gun owners will go for gun restrictions that Congress is intimidated by the NRA into not passing. He is asking people if they want to assert gun control as a cultural value or to let people with different cultural values actually get something done that can save lives. That makes more sense than if you are talking about antiracism. As Rayne has said already, people with antiracism as a cultural value are people who have to live with racism. People who don’t have it are people who never have to live with racism and are made very angry having to acknowledge that it exists. They will not get anything done without the insistence of POC. (Or an issue that involves racism can be made into something that they can understand. My husband was very incensed for example by the abuse in Ferguson of court fees.)

    • matt says:

      People who don’t have it (antiracism) are people who never have to live with racism and are made very angry having to acknowledge that it exists. 

      This is the trick- how do you get a class of privileged people to admit that they are privileged and that their position is supported by the exploitation of others… and then convince them to take steps to share some of their societal advantages?

      Would you subscribe to the fight power with power (violence/uprisings), or to the passive-resistance road of Gandhi/King?

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    David Brooks is rarely sincere. His prescription asks progressives not to show respect to their opponents, but to cede control to them. John C. Calhoun, come on down. You can lead Congress. We respect you, and want you to lead us out of this morass called slavery. Calhoun’s version of abolition would be to make slavery compulsory in the North, in hopes that would make it permanent in the South.

    Brooks has a long history. His versions of “respect” and “civility” haven’t much to do with mutual comprehension, compromise and reciprocity. They are about not changing the way things are, and convincing those who want change to be happy without it. His patrons adore him for it.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Carter Page comes out of his chrysalis and interviews with Chris Cuomo. He doesn’t think the FISA court judges’ identities have been fully revealed yet.  He doesn’t read progressive blogs then.  Carter the SOAS PhD derides them for needing “five footnotes” to make a point.  I suppose he avoided them entirely in his dissertation.

    Silas, the albino monk.  Carter would have been terminal at major/lt. cmdr.  Bullish enthusiasm, certainty and avid followership.  Not a lot of street smarts.  He’s the kind of guy I would not have wanted to share quarters with in Vietnam.  Too many reasons not to get sleep.

    “No one in Russia has ever tried to work me.”  Carter Page to Chris Cuomo, 27 Feb 2018.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Paul Ryan: “Anything but gun control measures.”

    Can’t deprive “law-abiding” citizens of their rights, and the companies from which they buy their firearms of theirs. Never mind school children, that’s old news. No balance needed. One more reason to unemploy these Republican public employees.

  12. harpie says:

    Sarah KendziorVerified [email protected]  11m11 minutes ago

    [quote] Replying to @Shakestweetz
    It’s a tactic of social control through fear, but it’s also a white supremacist agenda to restructure American demography. Targets will not be Europeans like Melania’s parents. Most targets will be Latino, Muslim, other non-white or non-Christian immigrants — as usual. [end quote]
     

  13. 4jkb4ia says:

    1) OK, in the long-running I-can’t-call-you-out-by-name Krugman-Brooks conversation Krugman is doing very well today.

    Actual Krugman Quotes:

    Political scientists have a term and a theory for what we’re seeing on #MeToo, guns and perhaps more: “regime change cascades”.
    Here’s how it works: When people see the status quo as immovable, they tend to be passive even if they are themselves dissatisfied. Indeed, they may be unwilling to reveal their discontent, or to fully admit it to themselves. But once they see others visibly taking a stand, they both gain more confidence in their dissent and become more willing to act on it–and by their actions they may induce the same response in others, causing a kind of chain reaction….The #MeToo movement, the refusal to shrug off the Parkland massacre, the new political activism of outraged citizens (many of them women) all stem from a common perception: namely, that it’s not just about ideology, but that far too much power rests in the hands of men who are simply bad people.

    (In the course of typing that I may have more than enough for the Dvar Torah I agreed to do next week at Kos. I will spare everybody posting the long brainstorm but I sent it to the group there.)

    2) If antiracism just becomes a value in the culture war you may get something like “Diversity, an Orwellian word meaning its opposite, means know your place, and stick to it.” which is what I can remember of Cynthia Ozick from about 20 years ago.

    • Rayne says:

      A key difference between now and 20 years ago is U.S.’ demographics — the kids in Parkland are white, Latinx, African and Asian American, and they are both representative of our near-term future and they’re so done with elders’ pig-headed biases which have only proved fatal to them. MeToo movement has taken a while to catch on, but it began with a black woman; the parallel push toward greater representation in front and behind the camera also demands the end to white male supremacy in studios so that cultural content reflects a truer image of our world. The culture war is really one of raising consciousness about America’s true identity — more than 37% non-white, and in a dozen years more than 50% non-white. Diversity is acknowledging reality.

      • posaune says:

        That’s why the right wing is desperate to impose apartheid power before the future non-white majority is in place.

  14. Evangelista says:

    Rayne,

    You reach mighty far for your bug-eyed marshmallow adrenalin rush for “racism!”.

    Not that it would be any of my business;  but it gives me the giggles and then I don’t get things done.  I have to stop and write, to try to help you out.

    First, when your mom says burnt to crisp people smell like fried chicken, what she is really saying is “You do the chicken, dear, I always burn it to a crisp.”  Nothing astonishing about that, even if she is lying about her cooking to push the job off to you.

    And your story about your pa and a credit card buying household appliances having his wife called to confirm…  Yes, in that case he is being discriminated against, but not for racism, except in your marshmallow head:    You say he is a gent and you say he is 80.  He has two strikes, one, being male, two, being elderly.  If there is a woman’s name on the credit card, especially if along with his, store personnel suspect senility, dementia, Alzheimers, and the woman named a wife, daughter, guardian.  Stories have gone around, if no one at the BigBox has personal experience, of old gents remembering needing to buy things they bought thirty years before, and buying them again, and the store having to deliver, return and restock.  Ask yourself the obvious:  How was the cashier, or whoever, to know your mom wasn’t another toasted-marshmallow?  I mean, where and since when, in racist cultures, such as you apparently suspect everywhere to be, do two darkies make a whitie?

    Your correspondent TheraP is also good for giggles:  Racial discrimination against a witness to a traffic accident manifested by a grumpy cop (they all are at traffic accidents, it is no fun and writer’s cramp back at the station house) asking for a driver’s license?  Cops need names and addresses of witnesses;  standard procedure is to ask for license/ID and write the information.  They even do that to marshmallows.

    You got to wait until they throw you up against a car, or on the ground, and start frisking or asking for warrants, or “Did you steal this car?”

    And then, if you ain’t dumb, you be nice:  You say, “No, officer, I did not steal this car, and I won’t steal your badge-number, either, I’m asking you to give it to me, for free.”  I can  tell you from personal experience that this works a whole lot better than wetting your pants for paranoia and giving yourself a nose-bleed hyperventilating and trying to whine “racism” at the same time.

    • Rayne says:

      My mother worked as an emergency room nurse for decades. You have no fucking idea what she experienced caring for the aftermath of a drunk driver who killed two people. First responders have to deal with real horror most of us never dream of.

      As for the rest of your nasty bigoted diatribe: Fuck off with your trolling. You are exactly why I am not making nice.

  15. matt says:

    (reply in comment not working)

    Whoa Evangelista! I think you misread the “chicken” story. Not cool to disrespect an ER nurse/doc! I think she can handle the other fiery criticism, but an attack on her family is out of bounds.

    You both will probably hate me for saying this as a White guy… but poor white people get discriminated against/ treated like crap too… not to the extreme… but, no mater what your race, socio-economic identity and “ageism” are at least part of the equation.

  16. Peacerme says:

    i think it’s more about “truth” than being nice. It pains me to admit out loud that I have mental health colleagues who would not fight racism as a mental health disorder. (Not an excuse…a break with reality, that interferes with emotion regulation). We need to do more research on racism. It’s disgusting, but we need to better understand the mechanism. Is it delusion? Addiction to self righteousness? Denial? What causes the break from reality that is racism?

    I agree to speak truth. I am not nice, and I am not mean. I just work at refusing to let it stand as truth. I live in the Midwest and have been chastised that I would post BLM ads, links to funding. Therapists can’t be controversial, it’s wrong to fan the flames of controversy. So I’ve been told and admonished. I have privilege and it’s my obligation, therapist or not to speak up. I realize truly that’s it’s privilege to pick and choose. I do think, that it’s a mental illness. That for some the denial is so strong that it’s like a delusion. I am not trying to “make nice” when I say we need to study it. But it’s a lot like studying shit. Thank you all for sharing. I know I need to listen.

    • matt says:

      I think we know what causes racism.   Its either outright denial by the privileged, or plain old ignorance.  The only remedy is education.  Most of us that are anti-racist where taught by our parents, or if we are lucky enough to live in a diverse social environment- we learned it’s hard to marginalize/dehumanize those in your own work or community groups.

      I believe that popular culture as shifted the pendulum towards acceptance of race, sexual identity, and disability… at least in the gen x and millennial generations.  The holdouts are the “old-rich” and “disenfranchised poor” whites.   After Trump, the disenfranchised poor whites will be forgotten again.  And, the old rich whites will be dead soon- their progeny living in a world where they are the minority.

      This social swing towards white nationalism in the US and Europe is the last stand.  There is NOTHING that can stop the inevitable dominance of “other” and “mixed” races in the future of human civilization.*

      *except the annihilation of the human species by global environmental collapse, plague, nuclear holocaust, asteroid impact, alien invasion, or zombie apocalypse.

  17. Peacerme says:

    I think it’s found in the paradigm of Power and control. You have to invalidate a person in order to hurt them. You have to decide that their feelings, their part in the tribe does not matter. You have to create a big enough threat in your mind, then decide that a human being is not valid. How do we learn to invalidate the feelings of others. Where do the mirror neurons go when this happens? What allows us to do that??

  18. matt says:

    Peacerme, I think humans invalidate other humans when they believe in scarcity vs. abundance. Also, when we have accumulated trauma, those who have not forgiven/acknowledged/healed in relation to inner pain will inevitability project it on to others.

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