Blair - New York Times affair is a portal to the labyrinth of American
racism. Deep in the tangle of passageways and diversions lies the central
question of Power. Notions of prestige, merit, fairness and process present
themselves along the way, drawing the visitor into intriguing areas of
tangential discussion. But it's all really about who's got the Power -
to hire or fire, promote or discard, elevate or vilify.
In our May 15 Cover
Story, subtitled "Blaming
Affirmative Action for White Folk's Mistakes," we attempted to
get to the heart of a matter that is made elusive only by the pervasive
racism that beclouds American perceptions.
The Times needs
an affirmative action program because it does a terrible job of hiring
competent Black reporters, many hundreds of whom are willing and able
to perform the corporate mission. The same racism that has historically
prevented the Times from sufficiently staffing itself with minorities
also causes it to hire the wrong candidates. White people have been
screwing up affirmative action since before the term was coined, sometimes
on purpose, more often through an inability to objectively assess non-whites
- one of the definitions of racism
The problem at the
Times is a general American problem which, through the magic of corporate
media's efficient dissemination of shared white delusions, is made to
appear as an aspect of Black group unworthiness.
A good way to begin
this week's EmailBox column, we think, is with a letter requesting "clarification"
of our May 15 commentary. Patty Brockingham, of Victoria Island, Canada
through a posting on IndyMedia
Victoria. Below is her letter, followed by our response:
I just read this
article. I'd like to ask a question to clarify, so I don't take something
from this article that it is not trying to convey. Are you saying that
Jayson Blair is not responsible at all for his actions and it is completely
the New York Times who is at fault?
We are saying that
the principles of "affirmative action" are not to blame for
Jason Blair's behavior, that white people are to blame for racial disparities
in the U.S. and cannot be trusted to behave objectively in hiring and
firing simply because they claim to now practice "affirmative action,"
and that the New York Times is no arbiter of objectivity or fairness
in any case.
That's what we said.
We also believe that white institutions use affirmative action as a
cover to continue the kind of Black hiring they have always practiced
- if they have hired Blacks, at all. White managers choose Blacks they
believe will reflect well on their institution's racial image.
(Black managers at white-dominated institutions often use the same criteria,
re: Times managing editor Gerald Boyd, whose presence appears to have
no effect on the paper's corporate culture.) This kind of "double
standard" - a self-serving white invention - rejects Blacks who
make whites uncomfortable (a helluva burden to overcome) and elevates
Blacks who possess white people-pleasing skills. The theoretical goals
of diversity are defeated by white subjectivity, and enormous distortions
are inflicted on Black society, which must look to role models from
a list of African Americans compiled on the basis of white imperatives.
Thus, Jackie Robinson, who by most accounts was not the best player
in the Negro Leagues, was chosen to break the color bar because of his
ability to bear white insults, stoically.
If you have read any absolution of Jayson Blair into our commentary,
it is a product of your imagination.
As Washington Post
columnist Terry Neal points out, the New York Times "diversity"
program that introduced Jayson Blair to the paper recruited 37 persons,
only 16 of whom were minorities. "Of those, seven have been promoted,
and only three - of which Blair was one - have been black," Neal
reported. The program began in 1995.
No wonder the Times
makes such a fuss about the Blair embarrassment - he represented one-third
of their Black "diversity" success stories! It is clear that
the paper was not prepared to expose itself to any large measure of Black
malfeasance - or excellence.
Racists are capable
of turning almost any tool to the purpose of humiliating non-whites.
reader Janet Hoo knows the deal. She writes:
Your article regarding
Jayson Blair and the New York Times was incredibly insightful and well
written. Your article voiced what I have been feeling, but was unable
Thank you for this
thoughtful article. I am grateful that voices such as yours are out
It is no slight against
non-African American minorities to point out that affirmative action was
originally conceived to redress specific historical injustices against
Blacks. Then, in the blink of an eye, all racial minorities were compelled
to compete with one another in the affirmative action sideshow, and white
women were thrown into the mix. We have wound up with no choice but to
defend the feeble, limitlessly subjective concept of "diversity"
- not a call to "action" at all, but an amorphous and highly
manipulable "goal" divorced from history.
Given the actual results
of the New York Times recruitment and promotions program, as outlined
by the Post's Terry Neal, it is fair to say that the Times never really
mounted an effort worthy of the name affirmative action - at least, not
for African Americans.
Haiti: Deep wounds
Voices from Haiti
speak of an escalating, U.S. abetted terror campaign against supporters
of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. American diplomats, frustrated that
a three-year aid embargo against the island nation has failed to topple
the elected government, openly employ the language of "regime change."
(See "U.S. Plots Regime
Change in Haiti," May 15.) Assassins and saboteurs associated
with previous military rulers operate with impunity from the neighboring
the buildup to next year's bicentennial celebration of Haiti's glorious
victory over French slavery to become the world's first Black republic.
As a discreetly anonymous observer reported from the island:
of having a populist government in Haiti, that represents the interests
of the poor black majority, is intolerable to US foreign policy, especially
as all the parallels with the history of US slavery are sure to be drawn,"
said a well-placed observer who must remain nameless due to the atmosphere
of terror in the country. "They want a subservient client in power
when the bicentennial comes down. They cannot control Aristide, therefore
they must do as they always have in these situations, destroy him and
his government by any means necessary."
In an April
24 Guest Commentary, former TransAfrica Forum President Randall Robinson
wrote of an unfolding, "bloodless coup" that has, nevertheless,
proved fatal to many thousands of Haitians:
But there are bodies.
They are the bodies of Haiti's nameless, faceless poor who, no longer
able to bend, break. They buckle under the weight of an embargo that
- incredibly - denies their elected government already-approved loans
for safe drinking water, literacy programs, and health care that they
need. They die out of earshot, out of sight, and unremarked by "those
who matter" beyond their shores.
The U.S. cites "irregularities"
in Haiti's 2000 elections to justify the aid embargo.
contributor Kevin Pina supplied this retort from a member of President
Aristide's Lavalas Party:
of the problems we had with our elections it is pure hypocrisy for the
US to lecture us about democracy and methods for counting our ballots.
It is very ironic that the world's first black republic, which arose
from the world's only successful slave revolution, is being lectured
to by a government whose methods of determining victory in a presidential
election were originally designed over 200 years ago by a small clique
of white male slave owners."
Reader Steven Hunt
digested these articles, and seethed.
I became very angry
as I read Randall Robinson's article on Haiti. So much disinformation
in the dominant press; I jump to the conclusion that there is a deeply
set racism that keeps journalists from even doing cursory research into
the Haiti situation.
The fact that the US government hates the authentic democratic aspirations
of the dominant political party, Lavalas, is in keeping with this nation's
hatred of democratic people's movements worldwide.
Randall Robinson and Kevin Pina are incredible people. I hope you keep
us posted on what is going on in Haiti, because even in the left/progressive
press most journalists have a blind spot for Haiti, the first nation
to successfully free itself from racist colonial domination.
Keep up the good work, Black Commentator. Hopefully in the near future
you can change your name to the Black Instigator because the African
American community is one of our last hopes if we are to initiate a
revived progressive democratic politics in the US.
Glover is deeply involved in Haiti's bicentennial celebration. As chairman
of TransAfrica's board of directors, Glover has also spoken out against
the U.S. embargo against Cuba and Bush's war on Iraq.
Judicial Watch and
other Hard Right outfits demanded that MCI fire Glover as the telecommunications
giant's ad spokesman. TransAfrica mounted a counter campaign, urging MCI
customers to email and telephone their support for Glover. (See "Danny
Glover Targeted as MCI Spokesman," May 15.)
Last week, TransAfrica
President Bill Fletcher issued another "Urgent Alert":
We Celebrate A Victory
with Danny Glover runs through January
2004 and we intend to honor our contract... "
This message resonates
with the sound of victory for our "Dial-in for Democracy"
Campaign. It was launched in response to the right-wing attack on TransAfrica
Chairperson Danny Glover. Our action alert last week asked friends and
supporters to contact MCI to insist that it not back down in its relationship
with Danny in the face of attacks from right-wing extremists. Our alert
was followed by an outstanding commentary by Tavis Smiley on the Tom
Joyner Morning Show (May 15th), along with other media attention. A
massive response ensued. MCI was deluged with telephone calls, e-mails
This morning we
confirmed that the message above is the official position of MCI. To
put it in another way, we won!
On behalf of TransAfrica
Forum, I personally thank you for your overwhelming support. Dial-in
for Democracy was not simply about defending Danny Glover and his right
to appear in television spots for MCI. It is about Danny Glover's right
to free speech without fear of being targeted and isolated from any
entity with which he chooses to be associated. It is about the rights
of all of us to be free to oppose the policies of this administration
without fear of reprisal, repression or the bully-type tactics that
characterized the war on Iraq. If these extremists can successfully
silence Danny Glover, they are a step closer to silencing all of us.
While this immediate
campaign was a success, none of us can afford to rest on our laurels.
What has become clear is that there are active forces who wish to narrow
the acceptable space for debate. Using smear tactics and fear, their
hope is to crush opposition to their agenda. We cannot ever permit this
to happen. This effort in support of Danny is a reminder that in a society
that professes democratic values, we all have a right, and in fact a
responsibility, to express our views and be heard.
Again, thanks very
much for your support.
Bill Fletcher, Jr.,
For those who appreciate
Danny's artistry, please note, he is currently performing on Broadway
in Athol Fugard's critically-acclaimed "Master Harold" and
These days, we will
take our victories anyplace we can find them.
EP Verdi makes an
interesting contribution to the MCI-Glover conversation:
You might be interested
to note in any follow-ups to the Danny Glover story that MCI (ex WorldCom)
has (a) close political and financial ties to the Bush administration
and (b) was recently awarded a lucrative contract in Iraq although they
were recently fined $500 million for an accounting scandal which netted
them $11 billion.
Deal in Iraq Troubles Critics"
It doesn't surprise me that Bush supporters/employees are bringing pressure
to bear on MCI. Smear campaigns against critics of Bush and the invasion
of Iraq have been fanned by big financial/political supporters of Bush
(such as Clear Channel, the radio network that blacklisted artists like
the Dixie Chicks). The editors of Rock and Rap reported that ClearChannel
first started harassing the Dixie Chicks at the behest of the White
Note that MCI isn't
"firing" Glover ... just "moving to new creative [ad
campaign] which is more closely tied to our new MCI corporate branding
campaign in terms of its look and feel."
I hope more publications
expose the White House's inexcusable campaign of harassment of artists'
Barbara Bruneau got
her licks in, while the campaign lasted.
Thank you for your
coverage on Danny Glover's persecution. I am outraged by this rampant
neo-McCarthyism (hitting us on all fronts), and have e-mailed
MCI, and everyone else I can think of.
Elaine Cole, of Joseph,
Oregon, had written the Glover case off as lost. (And, of course, the
victory was only partial, in that Glover was not terminated, outright.)
Although Ms. Cole was a bit off about the outcome, she's on the mark about
What MCI did to
Mr. Glover was loathsome; if not the act, the rationale (irrationale?)
behind it. But I got to thinking, why would anyone decent want to be
associated with this rotten POS company, anyway? And so I present to
you my letter to MCI regarding Danny:
issue of Danny Glover and MCI, Mr. Glover ought to thank the heavens
above that he will not be associated with your horrid company. Your
reason for breaching the agreement with Mr. Glover is yet another
despicable sign of the times, in the Bush game of "how low can
you go." You have just been fined $500 million for nine billion
dollars worth of fraud, and right on the heels of that ruling
you have "miraculously" acquired the contract to build the
Iraq cell network. I wonder how that fine piece of bargaining came
about. Are you going to rebuild in Iran, too? Syria? Lebanon? Like
the Bush Gang, you at MCI have dirty hands and sticky fingers. Mr.
Glover is well rid of any association with you. MCI: Malfeasance,
I think I pretty
well covered it all. Mr. Glover is too fine a man to jeopardize his
integrity by associating with criminals.
I use the term "hyena"
when describing corporations like MCI. They lurk, they steal, they laugh
while they're doing it.
We like Ms. Cole's
Malcolm, an upright
The demeanor and character
of Malcolm X shaped the moral outlook of a generation of Black men and
women. Malcolm stood - as a Man.
The Negro "revolution"
is controlled by these foxy white liberals, by the government itself.
But the black revolution is controlled only by God.
The black revolution is the struggle of the nonwhites of this earth
against their white oppressors. The black revolution has swept white
supremacy out of Africa, out of Asia, and is getting ready to sweep
it out of Latin America. Revolutions are based upon land. Revolutionaries
are the landless against the landlord. Revolutions are never peaceful,
never loving, never nonviolent. Nor are they ever compromising. Revolutions
are destructive and bloody. Revolutionaries don't compromise with the
enemy; they don't even negotiate. Like the flood in Noah's day, revolution
drowns all opposition, or like the fire in Lot's day, the black revolution
burns everything that gets in its path.
Come Home to Roost" speech, December 4, 1965)
C. Lee wrote us the
most poignant letter of the week.
Reading your article
of Malcolm's speech brought back memories. In the summer of 1959 my
mother brought me to New York City. I had been living in the South under
America's racist apartheid system .I had never heard a Black man speak
like that before. It made me proud to be Black.
in African AIDS
The rich and the racist
always describe problems that they choose not to address as "intractable"
for one reason or the other, while pursuit of their own comfort and privilege
is eminently "tractable." Thus, the intractable aspect of the
African AIDS pandemic is said to result from unique and fatal patterns
of sexual conduct south of the Sahara.
In our May 15 item,
"Sex Less a Factor
in African AIDS," we noted the findings of economic anthropologist
David Gisselquist, who has concluded that sex is an exaggerated factor
in the spread of the virus.
that the mothers of 39 percent of HIV-positive Congolese babies were
uninfected by the disease. The infants had probably been exposed to
the virus by substandard health facilities. In Zimbabwe, said the article,
"HIV incidence rose by 12 percent per year during the 1990s, even
as sexually transmitted diseases sank by 25 percent overall and condom
use rose among high-risk groups." Zimbabweans got the message,
but the disease kept spreading.
Poverty and lack
of development are the great abettors of AIDS in Africa - a fact that
should have been obvious to anyone not intent on condemning Africans
to some special, subhuman zone of amorality. It is clear that a racialist
view of sex and AIDS is as virulent a threat to Africa as the disease,
are widely shared, as we were informed by David Crowe, President of the
Alberta (Canada) Reappraising AIDS Society.
It is good to see
coverage of the important papers by Gisselquist et al that question
whether AIDS in Africa is heterosexually transmitted.
People have swallowed
the story that Africa is a seething orgy for years. But, this appears
to be thinly disguised racism with politically correct icing. It is
ironic that AIDS is fading away in America which is more sex-obsessed
than anywhere, but in Africa when many cultures are quite sexually conservative,
and many people have more basic concerns than sex (e.g. getting enough
food to eat) AIDS is supposedly growing rapidly.
postulated two hypotheses. They argued against heterosexual transmission
and they argued for medical transmission (e.g. dirty needles).
That second hypothesis
seems more tenuous, and it is not the only possible alternative hypothesis.
Another is that AIDS is not an infectious disease in Africa at all.
Note that the definition of AIDS used in the Third World, the W.H.O.'s
'Bangui' definition, allows AIDS to be diagnosed without an HIV
test based on three of the following four symptoms - persistent fever,
cough, diarrhea or weight loss (> 10% of body weight).
This sounds remarkably
like what one would expect from malnutrition, exposure to parasites,
poor living conditions, and lack of treatment for tropical diseases.
The real scandal may be that by redefining malnutrition as AIDS the
solution becomes ... you guessed it ... expensive (and highly toxic)
Western pharmaceuticals rather than adequate nutrition, clean water
Unwanted DC Vouchers
Washington DC's residents
overwhelmingly oppose private school vouchers. The District is among the
most Democratic jurisdictions in the country. Mayor Anthony Williams handily
won re-election last year, and need fear no Republican challenger in the
foreseeable future. Only three months ago, Williams vowed to resist White
House pressures to accept $75 million dollars in unwanted voucher money,
calling that his "immovable position."
Suddenly, as if massively
dosed with Ex-Lax, Williams was moved to abject capitulation, as we reported
in our May 8 piece, "Black
Spinelessness in High Places."
Back in February,
Williams pretended to have a spine and a decent respect for his constituents,
who only months before had polled 76 percent against private school
vouchers. A whopping 85 percent of Black Washingtonians rejected vouchers.
Anti-voucher sentiment goes way back. In 1981, 90 percent of DC voters
turned down a scheme to fund vouchers through a tax credit. But the
White House is determined to make Washington a showcase for school privatization
He has exposed himself
as just another Voucher Trickster - albeit one lacking even minimal
skills at sleight of hand. He robs the office of all dignity, and shames
a Black city.
Steve O'Sullivan writes
to put in "a shameless plug for my wife Melody Webb," who heads
the anti-voucher "Coalition
for Accountable Public Schools."
I agree entirely
with your commentary about this. It is so telling that the Republicans
are trying to get this passed by bypassing the regular political process
(you know, votes, and stuff like that), since they know that as soon
as there is an informed debate about this all these truths about who
is putting up and money and who will receive the money will come out.
Further, it is either heavily ironic or heavily insulting that they
talk about "choice", when the means they use to get this passed
is by relying on the complete lack of choice and self-government which
the citizens of Washington DC have. When they start talking about choice
in terms of voting rights, then I'll believe them.
We urge our DC readers
to check out the Coalition's web site.
views Rev. Al Sharpton's presidential candidacy as essentially an intra-Black
Democratic affair whose effectiveness must be measured in terms of its
impact on Black power within the Party. (See "What
the Black Presidential Candidate Must Do," April 24.) Electability
has nothing to do with it. Rather, the primaries present an opportunity
to counter the contention that the Black bloc vote has been extinguished
- wishful thinking enthusiastically embraced by corporate media, Republicans
and many white Democrats.
Their common goal
is to fracture the Black vote and, thereby, eliminate from American
political debate the essential elements of the broad Black political
agenda. If the Black bloc vote is fractured, or can be made to appear
unfocused, the media will declare that the African American vote is
no longer strategically important. From that point on in national contests,
the Black electorate will be treated as less than the sum of its purportedly
David N. Johnson is
concerned that the Black candidate energize the electorate from
the bottom, up.
I must agree with
your assessment of the national scene with regards to the presidential
race and Al Sharpton. But I think you under-defined his role as a national
spoke person/candidate for a black agenda. The truly black candidate
for president must support a black agenda at the national, international,
regional and, particularly, the local the level.
The local level is where we all exist. It was Tip O'Neal who said all
politics is local. I believe this. For there are activist struggling
against the forces of reaction on the ground and with the people. The
black presidential candidate must be willing to stand with the grass
roots activist instead of posturing and avoiding the nitty gritty local
issues. In other words the black candidate must be willing to take a
principled stand at every level of the struggle: locally, regionally,
nationally and internationally.
Otherwise the black candidate appears to be vying to become the new
broker of the black vote and settling for voter registration dollars
and time to speak at the democratic national convention.
Yes voter registration and sending more people to congress is needed
but if these congressional delegates are as weak as the current crop
then their value is dubious. How many members of the Congressional Black
caucus came to the aid of Cynthia McKinney? Where are they on the question
of land in Zimbabwe?
Another concrete case in point was the most recent mayoral election
in Chicago where so-called black leadership's silence in that election
in the city was bought and sold by the Daley administration despite
police brutality, poor schools, gentrification of historic black communities,
and the displacement of black folks to the suburbs. All along the major
"civil rights" organizations and the black congressional leadership
vied to get the academy award for the deaf, dumb and the blind!
Sharpton came to Chicago and dodged the black candidate for mayor of
Chicago who was the only voice speaking to the issues in Chicago.
The days of flying into town, giving a speech and flying out with out
helping to build independent political organizations in black communities
must end. The black candidate for president must give impetus to and
support for real grassroots organization at the local level with regional
and national linkages. Anything less than this is tokenism.
Two weeks after the mayoral election, a leading black journalist, Salim
Muwakil, was fired by the Chicago Tribune because of his opposition
to the Bush administration's march toward war without a response from
the local black political establishment.
Black elected officials and the presidential candidates must commit
to building political institutions outside of the regular Democratic
Party. Otherwise black folks will continue to be taken for granted by
Democrats and ignored and/ or out right attacked by Republicans. Worst
yet black people become further despondent as they experience the ravages
of the postindustrial/global economy and the rightward drift in domestic
Running for president without a strategy and plan for building local
organizations is like trying to build a house from the roof down.
Black Harvard in
While rummaging through
our archives, Harvard Ph.D. candidate Jason Glenn came upon a Guest Commentary
he found unsettling. Shelton Amstrod's December 5 "Harvard:
The Strange Career of a Troublesome Institution" is a sweeping
indictment of both the university and a large chunk of its Black alumnae.
[W]hy have so many
Blacks with suspect motives, and having no organic relationship to any
Black institution, been placed in front of Blacks to speak on Blacks'
behalf? Maybe it is time to examine the legacy of this institution to
understand the nature of those Blacks who so proudly wear its brand.
Such Blacks continue to be given extraordinary access to public airwaves
to opine on and interpret the Black condition for white America. More
than a generation ago Adam Clayton Powell confidently asserted that
Harvard has "ruined more negroes than bad whiskey." A brief
racial history of America's intellectual Vatican puts its special role,
and Powell's biting assessment, in proper context ....
Blacks who seek to append themselves to this corrupt legacy will suffer
a shameful disgrace. For increasing numbers of Blacks today are in complete
agreement with the great "uneducated" freedom fighter Fannie
Lou Hamer, who could not have been clearer when recounting the battles
she fought for political representation and justice:
that would compromise in five minutes was the people with a real good
education. I don't understand that - I really don't to save my life.
Them folks will sell you - they will sell your mama, their mama, anybody
else for a dollar."
Glenn, at Harvard's Department of the History of Science, believes Mr.
Amstrod's piece lacks proper context.
An informative article
for sure, but it is an argument that could benefit from a more sophisticated
and complex presentation. Certainly, the history of almost every single
white institution in this country would reveal a great deal of racism
in its past and present, and a great many of the Black people emerging
from those institutions are "house Negroes" that have been
co-opted to a greater or lesser extent. Harvard, in this sense, is no
exception. Having spent some significant time with them, one could examine
the past graduates of HBCUs and also find just as many sell-outs, Uncle
Tom's and house Negroes - if not more - because of the greater number
of Blacks that attend. The reason being that the Black schools, trying
to prove themselves against the standard of the white institutions,
often have a more rigorously European curriculum than the HWCUs.
As Carter G. Woodson
tried to teach us as far back as 1933, it's not the institution or any
inherent evil on the part of people who attend them that produces racism
among whites and self-hatred among Blacks, but the content of the textbooks.
If the texts are the same, it doesn't matter where the student went
to school. What does make the difference is the perspective with which
a student reads those texts. If you know the texts you are reading are
the ones used to validate and legitimize the current world system, and
replicate - generation after generation - the set of behaviors that
keeps that system in place, then you read those texts with the purpose
of deconstructing them, not as the truth that would make one "educated."
(And Woodson, by the way, received his Ph.D. from Harvard - the very
first Ph.D. whose parents were slaves - and one could by no means classify
Woodson as a "ruined Negro.)
I write this not
trying to defend Harvard, heavens no, but just to add some balance to
the discussion. I would hate to have Harvard singled out as the seat
of racism and have people attending Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Brown,
etc., thinking their schools do not have a similar history.
New Orleans funk
Thaddeus Delay is
a bookstore manager at Xavier University in New Orleans, a city of many
contradictions that escape the tourist. Delay describes his current occupation
as "working for the white man," while he aspires to achieve
"a better day." In between, the scene gets gloomy.
I haven't begun
reading your latest issue and I am already excited and saddened by the
discussions that will be generated. We are at an amazingly volatile
time in humanity. Our basic belief systems are being assaulted daily,
our existence gambled and still we can only hope for an unimportant
victory on 'American Idol'. America is truly revealing her evil nature,
both at home and abroad, yet some of us still treat her as though she
is a nurturer to be admired. Living in one of the most downtrodden cities
in this America, New Orleans, I see everyday how our lack of recognition
and sometimes denial of this 'Great White Assault' will leave us crippled
with poverty, fear, and hatred ....
It is truly amazing
the depth of ignorance in this society. I applaud you on changing the
curve ever so slightly because it is an uphill battle. Keep up the good
We hope and trust
that Mr. Delay's place of employment has Molefi Kete Asante's latest work
in stock. Dr. Asante is an esteemed author and professor at the Department
of Africology, Temple University - and a
You are so good
it is unbelievable. I want to thank you for your strong, consistent,
and brilliant insights into the contemporary news items. Please watch
out for my new book, "Erasing Racism: The Survival of the American
Dr. Asante's book
is available at Amazon.com.
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