Critical thinking & Diversity

The best thing I’ve learned over the years is to be more critical about what I’m learning or what I’m taught. I ask myself these questions for example: “Who is my lecturer, what is his or her background and perspective, who wrote the book I’m reading, when was it written, what is the author’s perspective, what do I think about it and why?” I’m curious about this, because history is often written from the perspective of the victor. For example, in the Netherlands we’re taught in school about the very prosperous time period called ‘the Golden Age’. We learn about our entrepreneurship during that time, but we don’t learn (much) about our colonial history which greatly ensured our wealth. So I’d like to state that perspective is important and I think that our perspective will grow if we learn more about diversity.

First, let me clarify my own perspective: I’m a white male, blond hair, blue eyes, 28 years old, heterosexual, I’m healthy and I have no physical health issues. These are my privileges and all of these privileges are generally considered ‘normal’. With these privileges I don’t stand out. When you live within the norm, you have the possibility of being considered an individual: people probably won’t ask me to speak on behalf of heterosexual white males. That might be different if I were homosexual, or if I belonged to another group who is often stigmatized. I think that learning more about diversity is essential for human survival. More and more cities like Amsterdam have a minority majority and become super diversities. This means that there are more people living in Amsterdam with an ethnic origin than people who solely have Dutch roots for centuries of generations in their family. The diversity in Amsterdam is also becoming more diverse: there are multiple subgroups such as a Moroccan homosexual community.

In my opinion diversity already is the new norm, we’re just playing ‘catch up’. People are starting to feel the effects of globalization, cities are becoming more and more diverse and our society is sadly becoming more polarized. This phenomenon doesn’t surprise me. Fear has always been an easy ‘go-to’, it is in our nature to fear what we don’t know. Hermans and Dimaggio (2007) describe this fear as hunkering down and connect it to localization. Localization is the counterforce of globalization, as society changes people become more uncertain, they go into survival mode and stick to what they know. I don’t think that fear is the problem, it is more like a challenge that we have to overcome. It is easy to fear what you don’t know and really hard to embrace change. It takes effort and courage. But, aren’t all things worth having hard to get? I think the way we deal with fear is inadequate, it would be wrong to deny its existence and not enough if we’d only acknowledge it. Therefore we’d have to address it, say that it is ok that it’s there and that we can overcome it together. Self-reflection and critical thinking can help this process.

I recently read the following research paper: “Effects of Diversity Experiences on Critical Thinking Skills Over 4 Years of College” (Pascarella, Martin, Hanson, Trolian, 2014). In the paper is examined how exposure to a diverse environment can positively influence critical thinking. The authors explain how cognitive development is positively influenced when students encounter new situations, such as the challenges of diversity. Exposure to new situations that challenge their current mode of thinking, can spark complex and effortful thought structures, strengthening their critical thinking. The unpredictability of the new situation challenges the student to find new modes of conduct and dealing with the situation.

Also educational institutes in Amsterdam realize that they have to address the challenges of dealing with diversity, and even super diversity. The diversity commission of the University of Amsterdam (UVA) is very much involved in incorporating diversity into the general curriculum. In October 2016 they presented their final report in which they express the need for diversity and make a case on how diversity can enrich knowledge. The board of the University of Amsterdam stated that they are willing to make changes in order to make the university an educational facility where everyone feels welcome (UVA, 2016).

Our society is changing continuously, we have no choice but to change with it. Dealing with a diverse environment can be challenging, but can also be very rewarding. It challenges our ability to adapt and learn. Fear is a factor we cannot ignore or deny, it is one of the challenges we have to address. A more diverse environment will positively influence our critical thinking, if we accept the challenge! I believe there is a need for the topic of diversity in education. Whether you study Social Work or Economics there should be classes on diversity and critical thinking in the general curriculum to prepare students for today’s society.

References

Geldof, D. (2016). Super Diversity in the hearth of Europe. How migration changes our society. Leuven/ Den Haag: Acco.

Hermans, H. & G. Dimaggio (2007). Self, Identity, and Globalization in Times of Uncertainty: A Dialogical Analysis. Review of General Psychology, 2007, Vol. 11. No. 1, p. 31-61.

Pascarella, E., Martin, G., Hanson, J., Trolian, T. (2014). Effects of Diversity Experiences on Critical Thinking Skills Over 4 Years of College. JOURNAL OF COLLEGE STUDENT DEVELOPMENT, 55(1), 86-92. Consulted on 11 December 2016, http://aquila.usm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9211&context=fac_pubs

UVA (2016). Webcolleges. Let’s do diversity. Presentation final report Diversity Commission. Consulted on 11 December 2016, http://webcolleges.uva.nl/Mediasite/Play/34deeca7b8a849429de36482734485aa1d

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Why say anything?

After reading the article “The Real Reason White People Say ‘All Lives Matter’” on the Huffington Post by John Halstead (2016) I can say I agree with him and that I see the same phenomenon happening in the Netherlands.

The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2012 after Trayvon Martin was murdered. George Zimmerman who was part of the neighbourhood watch shot him, he was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon and Trayvon himself was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder. The Black Lives Matter movement argues that black people are treated as second grade citizens, are often victim of police brutality and are guilty unless they’re eventually proven innocent, not the other way around. The movement is a cry for liberation and equality and strives for a world in which black people aren’t intentionally and systematically targeted for demise. It empowers the contribution of black people in society, it illustrates the resilience during time of oppression and reaffirms their humanity (Black Lives Matter, n.d.).

The article on the Huffington post is about the Black Lives Matter movement and how the All Lives Matter movement is a negative reaction on it. The author explains why the seemingly positive message of All Lives Matter has a negative impact. He explains that saying All Lives Matter is similar to saying All Cancer Patients Matter at a Breast Cancer Awareness rally, it is pointless. Trying to get support for one subject does not imply that you dismiss another subject. The author therefor argues that people have an alternate reason for saying All Lives Matter in response to Black Lives Matter.

He goes on by explaining why the word “black” makes us (white people) feel unease, that it challenges our idea that race isn’t a factor and that it reminds us of our whiteness. He explains how we use colour-blindness as a coping mechanism. Because if race isn’t a factor, we don’t have to deal with concepts like ‘white privilege’. Racism has become more and more subtle over the years and is more connected to daily life then we realize. On top of the blunt racism of organizations like the Klu Klux Klan we now experience institutionalized racism, in which a lot of well-meaning people who are not intentionally or consciously racist take part in. Stating that you do not condone racism, do not use the n-word and detest organizations like the KKK does not mean that you do not participate in institutionalized racism. Halstead (2016) concludes that by the saying the phrase “All Lives Matter”, you’re denying that “Black Lives Matter”. He recommends that we accept and embrace the discomfort, that we recognize that we’re not colour-blind, that we work on our biases and spend time with black people in a black setting, talk to other white people, discuss institutional racism and use the phrase “Black Lives Matter” (Halstead, 2016).

Slavery is part of the history of America, just as it is part of Dutch history. Racism is often trivialized in the Netherlands and a lot of white people don’t want to be associated with that negativity. It hurts their perception of who they are and their self-representation. If I compare this phenomenon to the current relations between white and black communities in Netherlands, I think that the perspective from where we see the world is imminent to understand each other. The Story of the World theory states that our ‘cognitive schemata’ and ‘story of the world’ resides within our ‘cognitive behavioural triangle’. This means that our upbringing, believes and values, community and personal characteristics greatly influence the way we perceive, interpret and respond to certain situations

(Gast & Patmore, 2012). Our story of the world has been one sided. We live in a society where white is still the standard, the norm, the default and it’s because of this that we feel like race isn’t a factor. We use colour-blindness as a coping mechanism to keep the status quo, but mostly to not feel bad about being white. Not being aware of our own whiteness is part of ‘white privilege’. As Peggy McIntosh (White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, 1989) describes: “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” She goes on stating that her education never trained her in seeing herself as unfairly advantaged, possible oppressor or participant in an unequal culture. Rather as an individual who, if she relied on her own moral will, could amount to anything (McIntosh, 1989).

So the way we see ourselves, our story of the world, might need an adjustment. Gloria Wekker (White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race, 2016) also describes the White Dutch self-representation as one of the most damaging factors of Dutch culture. In chapter two “The house that race build” she mentions the race critical theory. This theory exposes how colour-blindness, claims of race neutrality and the discourse of tolerance obscures the way institutionalized racism hurts society (Wekker, 2016).

I believe that all of us have a responsibility to help better the world and make it a more equal place for everyone. I also believe that a social worker has an even larger responsibility. Gast & Patmore (2012) describe social workers as the ‘gatekeepers’ to services, they have the power give access to resources or to deny that access. A social worker needs to be aware of his or her position in relation to the client as well as his or her own position in society. To which group do you belong? What are your privileges? What is your story of the world?

Another thing I realized while I was writing this opinionated article is that the author of the article on the Huffington Post is a white man writing about racism. This made me wonder if the article would have the same value if it was written by a black author, would it be taken seriously, would it be posted online at all? The same goes for my reaction on it, do my words have more value because I’m a white male? The preferred answer would be no, but I imagine yes is closer to the truth. So if I’m ever asked to write something about racism and there is a black man or woman who can do the job just as well I wish to collaborate where possible or step aside if necessary.

 

References

Black Lives Matter. (n.d.). Who we are: About the Black Lives Matter Network. Consulted on 31 October 2016, http://blacklivesmatter.com/about/

Gast, L, & Patmore, A. (2012). Mastering approaches in Social Work. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Halstead, J. (2016). The Huffington post, Voices, The Real Reason White People Say ‘All Lives Matter’. Consulted on 31 October 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-halstead/dear-fellow-white-people-_b_11109842.html

McIntosh, P. (1989). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Consulted on 2 October 2016, http://nationalseedproject.org/images/documents/Knapsack_plus_Notes-Peggy_McIntosh.pdf

Wekker, G. (2016). White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

 

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Tears of Men

I started writing this blog with the title “A happy feminist”. Some might think that I mean these words as a contradiction, but I’d like to see it as something we should all aspire to be, namely a happy feminist. I changed the title to “Tears of men” because I think it is more fitting. The blog is still about feminism. The word ‘feminist’ triggers a negative association with many people and in my opinion this only shows we’re limited to a certain kind of thinking. A feminist is a person who believes in equal rights for both genders. Being a feminist has as much to do with being a man as it does with being a woman. Reading the book “We should all be feminists” (2014) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, explains this clearly. In the book, she discusses pre-set gender roles that we are taught ourselves and then go on to teach to boys and girls at a young age. She also discusses the influences of society and the historic origin of gender roles. Looking at my own childhood, upbringing and life so far, I can say that I haven’t always been a feminist. It was something that I had learn to become.

Gender roles hold a certain significance in our current society. It made me wonder about my own perception of my gender. Looking at my own life I would say that there are several steps to grow from boyhood to manhood. And if you follow these steps, you’ll reach your ultimate goal: becoming a man. If I do this, or act like that, I’ll get respect and I will become even more of a man. But what is a man? After seeing the documentary “The Mask You Live In” (2015) by The Representation Project (watch the trailer), I wasn’t sure anymore. It is a documentary about how we as a society teach boys to become men and what a typical man should look like. I learned that one of the most destructive things you can say to a growing boy, is that he should man up. And what man hasn’t heard that sentence when he was growing up as a boy (myself included) or a variation on it? If it’s not said by a parent, a coach or a teacher, it can also be said by one of our peers. It implies that we as men can’t be emotional. We’re taught to hide our feelings. I never imagined that exploring my own manhood would be this painful.

And while I’m writing this I feel emotional, sad, shocked but mostly confused. What does it mean to be a man? Never in my live could I have imagined that I would ask myself that question while I was exploring what it means to be a feminist. It is so easy to take something like my own manhood for granted, since I’ve been a male all my life. From time to time I do think about what kind of man I am and aspire to continue to be. My picture still mostly fits the type of men as seen in Hollywood movies: I want to be brave, like a super hero, keep my emotions in check, be a kind of bad guy (but not really a bad bad guy) because that gets you the girl. Now I realize that these roles I’ve been taught and have internalized so well aren’t or have never been up to date. This feels world changing. At some point in my live I started telling myself that I shouldn’t cry and be strong. Resulting that I now sometimes feel numb and have trouble crying when I feel like I need to. I can be sensitive towards others but cannot grant myself that same kindness.

I think my perception about manhood has already changed dramatically and this is a positive thing. I’m looking forward to see what more I can discover about my manhood. Gender roles are really limiting peoples potential in society nowadays. I hope that one day I can teach my son or daughter that he or she can be him- or herself, support them in pursuing their dreams and give them strength to withstand pressure from outside. Let them see that these gender roles are not something to live by, but just to be themselves. Teach them not to measure themselves by the standard that society thinks a man or woman should be, should act, should look. This is an ongoing learning process, also for me. I’ve become more aware of the effects gender roles have on society and, ultimately, power distribution. I will consciously try not act on the biases that are implied by the gender roles that we have formed in society. This is feminism. Because: if I as a man don’t have to measure myself to the standard that society has created, there will be more space for women.

What do we need to do to reshape the structures of our gender roles? We need to critically look and discover to which standards we measure ourselves and others. We need to educate our youth and give them space to grow. We need to address each other and keep learning to reach a balance in which gender roles aren’t relevant anymore.

So, do YOU act out your gender role or do you live your life?

 

References

Adichie, C.N. (2014). We Should All Be Feminists. London: Fourth Estate.

The Representation Project. (2015). The Mask You Live in. Consulted on 23 October 2016, on www.netflix.com.

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A welcome wakeup slap

The colour of my skin has never had so much meaning to me, but over the years I’ve come to realize that it has granted me several privileges without me having to work for these privileges.

White lies
Not 1863 but 1873, not 1863 but 1873
We lied and cheated throughout history

And I’ll make sure that you are blinded by the whiteness of my lies

Have you believe that equality is real until you realize
That I will always be a little more equal
And when I speak, that people will listen to me
So listen to me

Hear me when I say that I don’t have to think twice
Don’t have to weigh my words
Never the criminal in your eyes

My white privilege has blinded the truth away and at this point I can say that my fake tolerance is not enough
I call my bluff
My fake tolerance is not enough
I call my bluff

So stand with me as I won’t stand for it anymore
I am faulted and that’s alright
Please remind me when I’m mistaken
When my bluntness provokes someone
Or when my privilege withholds me from seeing the truth

Please remind me

Because if only people like me get to speak, there will be nothing to be heard
In silence lies the truth of the oppressed.

– Chamaeleo / Sjoerd Antoon Mulder (2016)

Getting to know this part of me has made me grow as a person. I don’t think I’ve become a better person, but my perspective has changed and it’s because of this growth that I can no longer identify with certain aspects of Dutch culture (whatever this may be). In some way I’ve become a stranger to my own country. I believe that the hardly spoken of darker historical chapters of the Netherlands can explain why we tend to avoid conflict by denying it’s even there. I can’t remember having had a single lesson about how the Netherlands took part in worldwide slavery, but I can vividly remember stories being told of the Dutch resistance during the second world war. I guess stories about an underdog overcoming hardship are more appealing when we ourselves were the underdog.

Growing up in Amstelveen in a fairly white neighbourhood, I didn’t come in contact with a lot of different cultures and I always believed that the Netherlands was a progressive nation that strived for equality. The word ‘tolerance’ was key in this and when I look back now I think that the word ignorance seems more fitting. So when someone finally opened my eyes and removed my ‘tolerance goggles’, it felt like a wakeup slap in the face. Amazed, ashamed and shocked by how much bigger my world suddenly was, my curiosity was sparked and I began exploring what this meant for me.

One of the first things that I learned about was the term ‘white privilege’. In 1989 Peggy McIntosh wrote an article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. It talks about her observation that her white privilege is common to her but that she was carefully taught growing up not to recognize it. She then goes on to trying to describe how her white privilege affects her daily life. I highly recommend everyone to read this to become aware of his or her own (white) privilege.

I guess my view on our ‘progressive’ culture has darkened quite a lot since then. By denying that there are problems we should deal with, we’ve made matters worse. I think that our problems will worsen further before thinks can improve again. I’m currently at a point that I’m doubtful about the right course of action. Is it necessary for opposites to actually fight each other in order to change the status quo? I don’t want to believe that fighting is the answer, but I must admit that I do get why people would consider it. When I talk about topics such as the Black Pete discussion or refugees, people often absolve from taking a standpoint at all, or bluntly say they’re against more refugees or the anti-Black Pete movement. I rarely meet people who are truly open for discussion. Even though I’m hopeful that in some discussions I do get through to someone, I’ve noticed that I’m becoming more hesitant about discussing my opinion with people who I believe to think differently than me. Based on previous discussions I’ve had, I predict how they will respond and I decide it’s not worth the trouble. I also think that I would lose a lot of friends if I’m on the offense all of the time. It saddens me when I think about it. I’m not proud that I make these assumptions and sometimes choose not to act. I realize that I can choose not to act, when I don’t open my mouth I belong to the in-group again as a white male and no one would question me on these topics. I can only imagine what it would feel like to walk into a room knowing that there will always be people who’ve already made up their mind based on my skin tone, ethnicity and, not to forget, gender. I think white people are so used to categorizing people other than themselves as different, as the so called ‘other’, that we’ve come to believe that we are the norm. It’s not surprising that terms such as white privilege aren’t welcomed as part of life, or as truth in Dutch culture. People argue that concepts like white privilege are phenomena’s from the US and that racism doesn’t really exist in the Netherlands (anymore). Again, our tolerant self-image saves the day and we don’t have to feel bad as white people. If we keep viewing the Netherlands as the progressive nation in which everyone has the same chances and opportunities if you only work hard, we’d be blinding ourselves from the truth.

Gloria Wekker recently published her book ‘White innocence’, in which she aims to describe an ethnography of the dominant white Dutch self-representation. Wekker states (2016): “Whiteness is generally seen as so ordinary, so lacking in characteristics, so normal, so devoid of meaning, that a project like this runs a real risk of being considered emptiness incarnate.” It’s my understanding that she says that her thesis in which she explores Dutch self-representation is at risk of being considered invalid because of the unacknowledged historical processes and systems which have formed the Netherlands over the years and have helped form the white Dutch self-representation.

The problem with Dutch culture is that it is so interconnected with the white Dutch self-representation, that we can’t see which is which anymore. Wekker (White Innocence, 2016) describes the Dutch culture as a culture in which we long for nostalgia. So called ‘normal times’ or ‘past times’ are kindled and we seem to long for a simpler past, back when demographically speaking the country was prominently white and gender relations were clear (men provided for their wife and children at home). We currently see ourselves as a liberal open minded nation but the financial crisis, the arrival of refugees and an overall feeling of unrest in the world, just to name a few examples, are a threat to that self-image.

I think we should acknowledge that ‘the norm’ doesn’t exist and start asking questions again and mainly question ourselves. Why do I think that? Why do I like that, or why not? We can’t be afraid to criticise ourselves if we are truly willing to learn. The truth might hurt and some things will have to change, but pain will fade and people will get used to changes. Culture is not static, it must change in order to stay alive, develop and grow richer. This also applies to Dutch culture.

As Peggy McIntosh (White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, 1989) describes when acknowledging her white privilege: “Having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it? […] What will we do with such knowledge? As we know from watching men, it is an open question whether we will choose to use unearned advantage to weaken hidden systems of advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base.”

So the next time you feel a painful wakeup slap full of knowledge hit your cheek, say “thank you” and embrace the change you can make.

References
McIntosh, P. (1989). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Consulted on 2 October 2016, http://nationalseedproject.org/images/documents/Knapsack_plus_Notes-Peggy_McIntosh.pdf

Wekker, G. (2016). White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

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Freedom to wear a Burqini?

Yes. Who am I to judge another person on what they should be wearing in public space?

When I read online about the Burqini being banned in France, I was instantly interested. Innovation in religious clothing is a good thing. But then I realized that I don’t have so much knowledge on the Islam. And I do get that people are afraid after the recent terrorist attacks in France.

I think that the word ‘distance’ might be key to understanding why the Burqini was banned in the first place. Micallef (The Huffington Post, 2016) wrote an article about the Burqini being banned from public beaches in France. He posed the question if France is right to ban the Burqini from public beaches. He later concludes that the Burqini ban in France is unfounded and that banning it would be misguided, even if some people find the Burqini offensive or even threatening. I agree with him.

The Burqini is suitable swimwear for Muslim women according to the Islamic code of dressing. The Burqini came to existence in 2003 after Aheda Zanetti watched her niece play netball in a traditional Islamic clothing article the Hijab. Watching her niece play netball wearing a hijab inspired Zanetti to develop more suitable sportswear for Muslim women. The Burqini was approved and certified by the Islamic community, empowering girls and women to participate in sports (Burqini Swimwear, 2010).

Globalization and localization
Just by reading the origin from the Burqini I can hardly believe that the Burqini could be anything other than good. Still some people take offence to this religious swimwear. Apart from the recent terrorist attacks in France I also think that the effects of globalization might have something to do with the aversion of the Burqini.
The human race has never before been so interconnected with each other. More and more people migrate for safety, economic or other reasons and many countries are becoming multicultural societies. People with different cultural backgrounds and values are living as neighbours and what used to be the norm is changing (Hermans & Dimaggio, 2007). Not everyone is able to deal with this change. I believe that this is also happing in France. People are uncertain about their new Muslim neighbours and try to hold on to what they know. They feel a desire for things to stay the same. Herman and Dimaggio (2007) add that localization is a counter effect of globalization. Anxiety, fear and uncertainty about how this new multicultural society is going to develop drives people to search for stability and safety in what they know. In- and out-group thinking heightens and the distance between people of different cultural backgrounds grows. Although the physical distance between people of different cultures has been diminishing over the years, the same cannot be said about psychological distance. I think that we’re living next to each other instead of with each other.

Dialogical self
Herman and Dimaggio (2007) also highlight that when a new culture is perceived as threathening, people are motivated to defend their local positions. This self-defence keeps people from growing and developing the dialogical self. The dialogue between people, and their relationships, can only exist when there’s an internal dialogue.

Islamophobia is a good example of a lack of dialogue. People fear the unknown and base their understanding of the other on what they see on the news or hear from their in-group. Politicians build on this fear to gain votes and win elections. But I don’t think that banning Muslim garments would benefit France in the long run. Globalization is happening whether people like it or not. So instead of capitalizing on the fear that this change brings, politicians and mass media should redirect their focus on how to deal with the changing world, form open dialogues and stop criminalizing the Islamic religion.

A Burqini still allows a person to be identified and is therefore not a threat to public safety, as Micallef (The Huffington Post, 2016) states in the article. I believe that the ban of the Burqini is a temporary symptom of our changing world.

The Burqini is innovative and even freedom in my eyes. Everyone should be able to wear what they want. Who am I to judge another person on what they should be wearing in public space? I’m more interested in their story behind what they’re wearing. I also believe that the world will keep on changing and that a time will come that people in Western societies won’t frown upon people wearing Muslim garments: it will become part of what is normal and what is local. The key is, however hard or confronting this may be, to keep the dialogue going.

References
Burqini Swimwear. (2010). The BURQINI ™ / BURKINI ™ Brand Story. Consulted on 19 September 2016, http://www.burqini.com/

Hermans, H. & G. Dimaggio (2007). Self, Identity, and Globalization in Times of Uncertainty: A Dialogical Analysis. Review of General Psychology, 2007, Vol. 11. No. 1, p. 31-61.

Micallef, J.V. (3 September 2016). The Huffington post, Worldpost, Is France Right to Ban the Burkini?. Consulted on 18 September 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-v-micallef/is-france-right-to-ban-th_b_11845732.html

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