The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Leaving the Past

Posted by Adam Benforado on July 25, 2009

Uncle Sam - by morizaSam has been an active racist his entire life.  For decades, he has called blacks demeaning names; he has written about their inferiority; he has threatened them and beaten them; he has attended lynchings.

Under great pressure from various acquaintances and friends, in his seventieth year of life, he stops using the “n” word and ends the explicit prohibition on hiring blacks at his factory.

Ten years later, however, his business still has an almost all white workforce, despite getting lots of black applications, and no managers.

Should we trust Sam that racial bias has nothing to do with the disparity?

If you are like me, despite hoping that Sam has changed, you are deeply skeptical.  A person carries his past with him, and it continues to shape his life—even when he genuinely believes he has left it far behind

The same is true of countries.

Our own dear old Uncle Sam has come a long way from the Montgomery bus boycott and the Greensboro sit-ins: today, fifty years later, there is broad agreement in society that bias and discrimination based on race are abhorrent.

But we must not forget that, in the history of our country, this consensus is a very recent development.  For most of our past, bias and discrimination were the norm—permitted by statutory and constitutional law and supported by public opinion that openly held whites to be superior to blacks.

At a speech last week celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, President Obama made exactly that point, even as he urged black America to do its part to help black children succeed: “Make no mistake, no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America.”

When asked several days later about the arrest of African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his own home, Obama emphasized the “long history in this country of African-Americans being stopped disproportionately by the police” and suggested that the incident was “a sign of how race remains a factor in this society.”

There are many out there who strongly disagree with the president, who believe that we have reached the end of our long journey out of night—that we stand at the dawning of post-racial America.  As former Bush administration official John Yoo argued in the Philadelphia Inquirer, protections for minorities written into employment law, election law, and college admissions “might have been justified in the 1960s . . . [but] they are necessary no longer.”  Our nation has fulfilled its promise of creating a nation that ensures “the proposition that all men are created equal.”

While I share Yoo’s desire to embrace progress and to step into the light, I cannot ignore the evidence that suggests that his assessment is wrong.

First, blacks do not enjoy equal outcomes to whites with respect to income, education, health care, and numerous other areas.

Consider just the statistics on criminal law: Forty percent of felony defendants are black and a black male is five times more likely to serve time in prison over his lifetime than a white male.  Blacks also receive significantly higher bail amounts, are given longer sentences, and are more likely to be sentenced to death than their white counterparts.  In fact, the more stereotypically black your features are, the more likely you are to receive the death penalty.

Second, this disparate impact appears to have its roots in implicit biases held by many Americans beyond their conscious awareness or control.

Over the last 10 years, hundreds of thousands of individuals have participated in research studies measuring their racial stereotypical associations using the Implicit Association Test, developed by psychology professors from Harvard, the University of Washington, and the University of Virginia.

Approximately 70 percent of those who have taken the test have demonstrated a preference for whites to blacks.

Just as critically, the test has significant value at predicting social judgment and behavior, as an overview analysis of 122 research reports published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology last month documented.  Physicians with a white preference on the Implicit Association Test, for example, provided less effective treatments to hypothetical black coronary artery disease patients than to white patients.  Likewise, individuals with a white preference on the test were more likely to shoot a black target in a simulation than a white target engaging in identical behavior.

This evidence does not mean that, today, Americans are all hate-filled bigots.  One of the major findings is that many egalitarians—those genuinely committed to racial equality, including the test designers themselves—show automatic race preference.

What it means is that the hundreds of years of explicit racism in our country have left a mark within us.  We may be completely unaware of its existence, but it is influencing our actions.

Uncle Sam is on the right path.  The election of our first minority president and the likely confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court are testaments to how far we have come, but they are welcome signs of progress not an indication that we have reached our destination.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Black History is Now,”Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing,” “What does an Obama victory mean?,” “The Situation of the Obama Presidency and Race Perceptions,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.”

Posted in History, Ideology, Illusions, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Pollworkers and Voting Booths – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 21, 2009

poll workersAntony Page and Michael J Pitts recently posted their  intriguing article, “Poll Workers, Election Law, and the Problem of Implicit Bias” (forthcoming in Michigan Journal of Race & Law) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Racial bias in election administration – more specifically, in the interaction between pollworkers and voters at a voting booth on election day – may be implicit, or unconscious. Indeed, the operation of a polling place may present an “optimal” setting for unconscious racial bias to occur. Pollworkers sometimes have legal discretion to decide whether or not a prospective voter gets to cast a ballot, and they operate in an environment where they may have to make quick decisions, based on little information, with few concrete incentives for accuracy, and with little opportunity to learn from their errors. Even where the letter of the law does not explicitly allow for a pollworker to exercise discretion, there is a strong possibility that unconscious bias could play a role in pollworker decision-making. Whether a poll workers’ discretion is de jure or de facto, the result may be race-based discrimination between prospective voters. This article addresses how unconscious bias may play a role in the interaction between pollworkers and prospective voters and discusses some ways in which the potential for unconscious bias to operate in America’s polling places may be mitigated.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Racial Situation of Voting,” “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “The Situation of Political Animals,” and “Your Brain on Politics.”

To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here.

Image from The Virginia Pilot.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Law, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2009

Racial Bias TeamFrom Eureaka Alert:

White people don’t show hints of unconscious bias against blacks who belong to the same group as them, a new study suggests.

But this lack of bias only applied to black people in their group, according to the findings. Most white people in the study still showed evidence of some unconscious bias towards blacks who were in an opposing group, or who were unaffiliated with either group.

What impressed the researchers, however, was just how quickly these group bonds could form. The lack of bias toward fellow black group members was uncovered just minutes after whites joined the mixed-race group, and without participants even meeting their fellow members personally.

“The results suggest that when we share some kind of identity with a group of people, we automatically and immediately feel positively toward them, regardless of race,” said Jay Van Bavel, co-author of the study and post-doctoral fellow in psychology at Ohio State University.

“You can think in terms of people who go to the playground and play a game of pickup basketball. All it takes is a flip of a coin to make someone your teammate, and at least for that game, you’re going to feel positively toward your teammates, white and black.”

Van Bavel conducted the study with William Cunningham, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State. Their study appears in the March issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The study involved two separate but related experiments with college students, one done in Canada and one in the United States.

The students took a computer test commonly used by psychologists to reveal unconscious, or automatic racial bias. The test examines people’s first reactions to seeing a black face, before their conscious mind can edit and override biases.

Even though most people disavow any racial bias, this test consistently shows that about three-quarters of white North Americans have some level of unconscious racial bias, Van Bavel said. These unconscious thoughts can lead people to make biased decisions without realizing they are being biased.

For example, a manager may pass over a resume of a person whose name suggests she is an African American, without even recognizing why he is doing it, according to Van Bavel.

The computer test flashes pictures of black and white faces quickly on the screen followed nearly instantaneously by positive words (such as love) or negative words (such as hatred). Participants have to very quickly – within about one-half of a second — categorize the words as positive or negative.

In general, white people find it more difficult to correctly classify positive words when they were first shown a photo of a black person.

“Seeing a black face automatically activates this association with negative things for many white people and if they don’t have time to correct this negative image – which they don’t in this study – they associate negative words with black faces,” Cunningham said.

In the first experiment, 109 students at the University of Toronto were randomly assigned to one of two groups made up for the study – one named the Lions and the other called the Tigers. A control group learned about the two groups, but was not assigned to either one of them.

Members of the Lions and Tigers were shown photos of the members of both groups, and told it was important to learn who belonged to their team, and who belonged to other team.

Later, they were given the computer bias test. Results showed that students in the control group, who were not a member of either mixed-race group, showed a preference for white faces over black faces, as was expected.

But white members of the two teams showed no bias against black members of their own teams. They did, however, show bias towards black members of the opposing team.

“Team members were evaluating people based on whether they were on the same team – not evaluating them based on their race,” Cunningham said.

The second experiment involved 126 students at Ohio State. The setup was essentially the same, except that participants also evaluated white and black faces that were not members of either of the two groups. Results showed that white students showed no bias against blacks who belonged to their team. They showed nearly equivalent levels of bias towards black members of the opposing team, and black members who were not associated with either team.

This suggests that whites were showing increased positive feelings toward black members of their own team, but not increased negative feelings toward blacks who belonged to the opposing team.

“White students felt the same toward blacks on the opposing team and people who didn’t belong to any team,” Van Bavel said. “That means liking people from your team doesn’t mean you have to hate members of the other team.”

Van Bavel said the unconscious biases studied in this research have real-life consequences.

“What’s dangerous about these attitudes is that they can come into play even when we’re not aware of them, and even when we think we are being egalitarian,” he said.

But this study suggests there may be ways to battle this unconscious, automatic racism.

“We want to change how people see someone at the very earliest stages. If you see someone as a member of your own team or group, race may not even come to mind. You are thinking about that person in terms of some kind of shared relationship,” Van Bavel said.

In the real world, this means creating contexts to show how people are connected whenever possible. This may mean emphasizing our shared identities as residents of a city, fans of a sports team or members of a church.

“It’s part of human nature to feel positively about members of our own group,” Cunningham said. “The challenge is to find ways to call attention to our shared identities.”

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For some related Situationist posts, see “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,”Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas,”‘Us’ and ‘Them,’March Madness,” Race Attributions and Georgetown University Basketball,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” “The Origins of Sports Team Fandom,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” and “Situationist Theories of Hate – Part II.”

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t

Posted by JH on February 19, 2009

ap-nypost-cartoon-0218091The image to the left is a portion of a controversial cartoon that ran in yesterday’s New York Post. The cartoon (the entirety of which is here) includes this punchline: “Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.”

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A common assumption among most Americans is that race is not an issue these days; after all, most of us rarely if ever feel ourselves being “racist.” If we are not thinking about race when we go about our daily lives and if we are not harboring any racial animus when we interact or socialize inter-racially, then, we assume, race is not influencing us.  We may not be blind to color, but we might as well be.  Most Americans, I’m guessing, would therefore not have a problem with this cartoon.

Rev. Al Sharpton, on the other hand, does:

“The cartoon is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys. One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual reference to this when in the cartoon they have police saying after shooting a chimpanzee that ‘Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.’

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“Being that the stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama (the first African American president) and has become synonymous with him it is not a reach to wonder are they inferring that a monkey wrote the last bill?”

The New York Post’s editor-in-chief, Col Allan, dismissed Sharpton’s  remarks with this retort:  “The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy. . . .”

But why couldn’t Mr. Allan and Rev. Sharpton both be right?  Why, in other words, would Mr. Allan conclude that a parody of a violent chimpanzee cannot also reflect and encourage troubling racial associations?

Perhaps it is because neither he nor his cartoonist were consciously thinking about race when creating or publishing the cartoon.  If they did not think about race, then they know race didn’t influence them.  From that perspective, Sharpton’s suggestion that race may have played some role seems preposterous.

But that sort of reasoning is itself preposterous when one takes seriously what social psychology and related mind sciences have discovered about the role of unconscious or implicit associations.   Our brains, it seems, have a mind of their own, and that mind is often operating automatically and powerfully in ways that reflect common cultural stereotypes — including those that we might consciously reject.  What we think we know about what is moving us is only a tiny, and often a misleading, part of what is actually going on in those parts of our brains that elude introspection but that can nonetheless manifest in our perceptions, emotions, and actions.

If one examines the cartoon mindful of racial stereotypes, the image scores a hat-trick and then some.  The association of blacks to guns, to crime, violence, and to hostile interactions with law enforcement officers is so strong and should be so well understood that I won’t take time to review the evidence.

What some people may not be aware of is the disturbingly robust implicit associations of African Americans to monkeys, chimps, and apes.

As social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt recently observed, “one of the oldest race battles that blacks have fought in this country has been the battle to be recognized as fully human. To be regarded not in the in-between status somewhere between ape and human but to be fully human.”  And with a black American now the President of the United States, the tendency to link black Americans to apes might be dismissed as an irrelevant relic of the past.

But is it?  In the video excerpts below (from the Project on Law and Mind Sciences 2007 Conference), Jennifer Eberhardt’s describes some of her research examining whether such a de-humanizing association continues to operate beneath the radar of our consciousness (10 minutes total).

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While it is no doubt affirming to believe that we live in a post-racial society as revealed by Barack Obama’s election, it is probably more accurate to say that race is alive and well in the recesses of our brains and that the election of Barack Obama is — particularly when he is connected to policies we disfavor — likely to activate some of those unseen associations.

If  one didn’t think about race while imagining and sketching a cartoon, that doesn’t imply that race didn’t play a role in shaping those processes.  Nor does it justify indifference, much less indignance, toward those who urge us to consider whether race did somehow play a role.

Quite the contrary, given our history and the hierarchies and inequalities that continue to define our country, all of us should be especially attentive and sensitive to the possibilities that what we “know” to be true about what  is moving us is often mistaken and that those mistakes have consequences.

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For a sample of related Situationst posts, see “Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing,” “What does an Obama victory mean?,” “The Situation of the Obama Presidency and Race Perceptions,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.” For other Situationist posts on President-Elect Obama, click here, and for posts discussing the Jennifer Eberhardt’s research, click here.

Posted in History, Implicit Associations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Mispredicting Our Reactions to Racism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 9, 2009

For more evidence of how of the power of situation and the illusion of disposition, read the following mashup of articles from CNN, Canadian Press, and Associated Press.

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It’s one thing to hear reports of racial slurs being hurled at individuals or to see such epithets in literature or as graffiti on walls. But how would you react if someone used such language in your presence?

Shocked. Disgusted. Outraged. Even horrified, some might say. However, a Canadian-led study suggests real-life responses to prejudice don’t always reflect how people think they will react.

In the study, which appears in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, undergraduate students at Toronto’s York University took part in experiments which cast them in distinct roles: those observing racist remarks first-hand and others who read about such a scenario or watched it unfold on video.

Students were led into a room and seated in a preselected chair thinking they were waiting for an experiment to begin. They were followed into the room by two males posing as participants: one black and one white.

Shortly after, the black male remarks that he has left his cellphone in the hallway, and on his way out to retrieve it gently bumps the white male’s leg with his foot.

Once the black person has left, the white male who’s part of the experiment makes a remark that is either classified as an extreme racist comment [used the N-word], a moderate racist comment or he says nothing at all. The extreme comment used was “clumsy nigger” and the moderate racist comment was “typical, I hate it when black people do that.”

Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire to rate their feelings in the moment and then asked to select a partner to complete a task.

Those who read about or watched the scenario were asked to predict how someone seeing this happen would feel, and whether they would select the white male or black male as a partner.

This group of observers – dubbed “forecasters” – believed people who heard the slurs would be very upset and more likely to pick the black person over the white person.

But in reality, the racist remarks didn’t affect those who heard them first-hand – called “experiencers” – and they were more likely (63 per cent) to select the white person as their lab partner.

“We definitely were surprised,” said lead author and York psychology professor Kerry Kawakami.  “It’s like these nasty racist comments aren’t having an effect.”

“We thought that people would have positive illusions about how they would respond to racism, so that they would predict that they would be much more upset than they were and that they would avoid the white racist more. But we were surprised that it had no impact at all.”

“It didn’t affect them emotionally at all and it didn’t affect their choice of who they wanted to work with at all. Those findings are shocking to everyone in my lab.”

* * *

Kawakami said they are exploring several possibilities as to why individuals would react with such indifference to racist remarks.

One theory is perhaps the nature of the situation was so threatening for participants they simply suppressed all thoughts and emotions. Another is that while people think they’re not prejudiced on a controlled level, on a non-conscious, internal level, they may actually have a lot of negative associations with blacks, she said.

“You’re not going to react negatively towards that person because they’re saying things that you wouldn’t say but that you still might somehow – at least on a non-conscious level – think are true.”

Eliot Smith, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, co-wrote a commentary on the study with Diane Mackie, a psychology professor at University of California, Santa Barbara.

The pair suggest the findings are an example of what is referred to as “a failure of affective forecasting” – people who improperly predict how they would feel and therefore act in imagined or future situations.

Research by Smith and Mackie has explored how emotions affect memberships of social groups that are important to individuals, such as a woman who feels pride if another woman gets a promotion. Smith said it struck them that the new study’s results might be a reflection of that process.

“We definitely found the result very interesting and surprising . . . and we just wanted to put this little twist on it, the idea that sometimes when our emotions do surprise us, it’s a way that we can learn kind of maybe for the first time, what identity we’re in in a particular situation.”

Research also reveals situational cues like things in the environment or that people say can also lead people to switch from one identity to another, he said.

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The study is consistent with decades of psychology research pointing to the same thing: People are really bad at predicting their own actions in socially sensitive situations.

“That point is getting renewed attention as researchers develop more extensive evidence establishing reasons to distrust self-report measures concerning racial attitudes,” said Anthony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, who was not involved with the study.

The racism study harkens back to Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment that began in the early 1960s, in which most people obeyed orders to deliver electric shocks to an innocent person in the next room. Many psychiatrists had predicted that the majority of subjects would stop when the victim protested, but this was not the case.

“The failure of people to confront or do anything about racist comments is pretty widespread in the real world,” said . . . Smith . . . . “People may feel uncomfortable if someone makes a remark like this, but it’s rare they will actually confront them.”

More recent work by Greenwald and colleagues shows that most people — between 75 and 80 percent — have implicit, non-overt prejudices against blacks.

What is responsible for these attitudes? Experts say one culprit is images in television, news and film that portray blacks in a negative light.

“I don’t think what’s in people’s heads is going to change until the environment that places these things in their head has changed,” Greenwald said.

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“It’s important to remind people that just because a black man has been elected as president doesn’t mean racism is no longer a problem or issue in the States,” Kawakami added.

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To learn more about implicit associations, click here. To review previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin or, for a list of such posts, click here. For a collection of Situationist posts discussing Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Illusions, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Blame Frame – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 13, 2008

Situationist Contributors Jon Hanson and Kathleen Hanson recently posted their article, “The Blame Frame: Justifying (Racial) Injustice in America” (Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 41, 2006) on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

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This Article attempts to elucidate how our forebears, who were presumably as devoted to justice and liberty in their times as we are in ours, failed to condemn behaviors that are today widely viewed as patently oppressive, unfair, and even evil.

Our argument unfolds in several Parts. Part II summarizes evidence from social psychology and related fields that helps explain how people who imagine themselves fair and just routinely blame the victims of inequities and excuse the perpetrators or passive observers through blame frames.

Because humans crave justice, salient suffering or inequalities activate an injustice dissonance within us. Too often, we alleviate that dissonance, not by addressing the injustice, but by creating an illusion of justice through assumptions, arguments, or stereotypes about the blameworthiness of the victim. Part II then describes three powerful blame frames that have coexisted, while alternating in dominance, throughout American history: the God frame, the nature frame, and the choice frame.

Part III elucidates through a few prominent examples how blame frames have operated throughout history to relieve our forebears’ injustice dissonances and to perpetuate systems of oppression. The motivated attributions underlying those blame frames acted to legitimate laws, customs, and practices that today – with the benefit of hindsight and the lens of a new frame – are recognized as clearly unjust.

Part IV argues that we suffer an equally great confusion today, but the injustices that haunt our generation are soothed less by the God and nature frames and more by conceptions of choice. Choicism attributes disparities to the preferences and character of individuals and their groups. Although choicism purports to be colorblind and non-discriminatory, it is, unfortunately, just the latest cloak veiling racism and other groupisms while allowing us to blame victims and excuse non-victims. Part IV, by examining public reactions to Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath, then shows how Americans experienced an unusually powerful and intractable injustice dissonance when the winds, water, and desperation exposed inequalities that choicism could not readily justify. For at least a moment, Americans faced what seemed to be strong evidence of racial injustice. Part IV reveals some of the ways that a set of overlapping and largely camouflaged blame frames obscured and confused the public discourse regarding Katrina and the injustice dissonance she wrought.

Finally, this Article argues that only by understanding the sources and effects of blame frames can we ever hope to end oppression and thereby live according to the fundamental values we espouse.

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To download the article for free, click here. For related Situationist posts, see “‘Situation’ Trumps ‘Disposition’- Part II” and “Black History is Now.”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, History, Public Policy, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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