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Posts Tagged ‘anger’

I write a lot about racism. And by “a lot” I mean A LOT. And I’ve been doing it for years. Anyone who knows my work knows this, or should know it, would know it if they’d been paying the least little bit of attention.

Since November 8th, much of my writing has had the same message, a message that has made some folks accuse me of being a racist: namely, that you, white people: you are responsible for THOTUS¹. You sided with the Klan, took up the cause of the neo Nazis, voted in a hateful, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, islamophobic, isolationist, elitist government. The who-voted-how numbers tell the tale quite plainly. White men went for THOTUS in droves. And more than half of white women followed.

I kept posting from the heart of my anger, telling white folks to take responsibility for the apocalypse-world they ushered in, telling them to come get their people and start doing the work of eradicating the deeply ingrained racism that is the poisoned lifeblood of this country, work they should have been doing all along.

Surprise! Some people didn’t like what I had to say. Some people felt saddened or angered or attacked by my posts. And I got a lot of pushback saying their feelings were hurt by my “come get your people” demand.

I was caught off guard – not so much by the fact that anyone was hurt, but by the fact that a lot of anyones were hurt. If only a few people had contacted me, I might have seen them as anomalies. But I had more than a dozen emails, a handful of private messages, and a bunch of responses to FB posts – they ranged from sad to offended to passionately self-defensive to curt. Clearly there was something I should take a closer look at.

So I looked. But you know what? I’m not wrong. White people decided this election. Full stop.

Yes, I know. Not all white people. Ob.vi.ous.ly. I never said all-a y’all voted for him. No. What I said was that all-a y’all are responsible. What I said was that white people need to come get their people, need to start doing the hard work. And that’s what I meant.

I get it, the offense. I’ve written plenty about racism, but those other times were easier for my white friends and readers. They could see themselves as separate from the “bad” white people I chastised in those posts, remain comfortable in the knowledge that they were “good” white people. But in my writing since the election, there hasn’t been any room for white folks to hold themselves above the fray. The things I’ve written are the first time I’ve come for white people as a group, a monolith. And being seen as a whole group rather than as individuals makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

Fine. by. me. I’m not interested in anyone’s comfort, or at least not yours. It’s your comfort that made it possible for the election to turn out the way it did. It’s your comfort that enabled you to talk only to friends and family who agreed with you about the issues, who never said anything that rippled the quiet, happy waters of agreement that kept you buoyed and confident. It’s your comfort that kept you from giving credence to the number and socioeconomic diversity of people clearly enamored of THOTUS. Y’all been too damn comfortable for too damn long.

I know. On November 8th you cried. On November 9th you cried. How could the world have betrayed you like this? How could it be possible for that man to win the election?

Yes, you cried. But you know what? I’ve been crying, too … for years. Where’ve you been? You never noticed, never bothered to look, never bothered to care.

And I don’t mean the old-timey crying – when you kidnapped me and forced me into enslavement on your plantations and in your homes, when you sold my children away from me, when you raped and beat and killed me, when you lynched me for sport, when you refused to educate me, when you kept me from moving into better neighborhoods and better jobs … or any of the other ways this list could go on and on.

No, I mean in my own life. I mean the little ways you’ve cut and slapped me, made sure I knew I was “other.” I mean 8th grade when you took hold of my arm and rubbed hard enough to break the skin and then looked at me, puzzled, asking why none of the dirt would come off. I mean that time after college when you fixed me up with a guy from your job who you thought would be perfect for me – he was Black, after all – but you didn’t bother to tell him anything about me, not even the simple fact that I, too, am Black. If you had, he could’ve said to you instead of me that he didn’t date Black women because he found us uncontrollable and disrespectful. I mean every time I tried to tell you about some large-scale manifestation of discrimination, and instead of hearing me, you told me to calm down, to not be so angry. Instead of hearing me, you told me about some time when you, as a white person, had been a victim of reverse racism.

And I mean this moment in my own life. In the bigger ways you’ve let me down and broken my heart. Civil rights activist Johnetta Elzie says it so powerfully in her poem, “Where were you?

Where were you when the media called us “thugs” for protesting?

When I stood outside on those hot summer days, and needed ice water? 

Or a back rub?

Or someone to talk to?

Why weren’t you standing with me?

Where the hell were you?

Where were you when we asked you to #SayHerName?

When Rekia Boyd was killed while playing at the park with her friends?

When Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, and others died at the hands of police, with little media attention?

When our trans sisters — Brandi Bledsoe, Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee

Whigham — were also murdered and also forgotten? 

Where were you?

If you can answer at least one of the questions here, answer me this: We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?

Exactly right. Do you see it now? You have been making me cry since the day we met. And you’ve never noticed.

But you want me to pay attention to your tears, need me to understand how my statement of facts is painful to you, how it makes you uncomfortable. You want me to apologize.

Nope. No more. I’m over coddling you. Over biting my tongue when I need to call you out. Over swallowing my anger and hurt when you slap me down with your unconscious bias. Done.

Instead, I’ll be pulling on a brightly colored bathing suit, goggles, a nose plug. I’ll be doing that weird, arm-flailing body-slap Phelps does before a race. And I’ll be diving into an Olympic-sized pool filled to overflow with your tears.

A friend sent me Leah Roberts Peterson’s Facebook note. She wrote it after Saturday’s march, wrote it to her white sisters who had just stepped up in their pink pussy hats of solidarity but who were feeling attacked by questions and comments from women of color. She wrote:

The best thing you can do is take in all those feelings coming from our sisters who are hurting and angry and OWN IT. Remind yourself that yes, you’re trying because THIS is how they feel. You’re doing what you’re doing because it’s RIGHT and it’s how humans with empathy and sympathy and a working heart should live their lives once they figure it out. Not because all the Black women are going to magically start appreciating you. They owe you NOTHING. Mark the date on your calendar when you’ve got as many days under your belt being awake as you did being asleep, and then, maybe, start being a tiny bit impatient when others don’t recognize your efforts. My own date is June 17, 2061. I will be 91.

I tell you this with sincere love in my heart because I KNOW you’re trying. Sit in the discomfort of these moments. It’s ok to not feel comfortable. That’s how lots of people around the world live their lives every single day. Comfort is not our goal. Equality is. ❤

Oh, I am so here for this. When I talk about white fragility and you respond by dm-ing me how that term is divisive and hurtful … know that you’re flat out exhibiting A-grade fragility right there. When I talk about how the safety pins make me feel so much “Meh,” and you tell me I should be happy people are making an effort … just … no. Don’t do that.

When you say these tone-policing, silencing things, I respond as kindly as I can because I’m interested in keeping dialogue going, keeping lines of communication open, because I know and care about you. But I need you to take a moment, think about how microaggressive some of your comments are, think about how much your comments are really asking me to shut up and be grateful, to give you a cookie in appreciation for all your hard work on my behalf.

Yeah. What Imma need is for you to think about what’s making you uncomfortable and examine your discomfort before you come for me. Thank you.

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In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week.

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!

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¹ Titular Head oThese United States


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And so, Dylan Roof is guilty. On all 33 charges against him. Guilty.

And I’m glad of that. Of course I am.

When I shared the news, a friend commented that he wouldn’t be happy until Roof got the death penalty.

And I get that. Of course I do.

But …

Is it wrong that I want worse than death for him? I don’t know what that means, but that’s what my heart said when I saw the headline. He is clearly incapable of remorse, and I don’t believe in the death penalty … but in his case I want something visceral and inhumane and deep enough to reach whatever shred of humanity is still left in him.  And then I want it to go further.

That was my response to my friend’s comment. Is this who I’ve become? I think it is.

And I get that. Of course I do.

But …

Would there ever be a punishment that could fit Roof’s crime? I can’t imagine what it would be. Nothing anyone would or could do to him would ever erase what he has done, would ever make him understand that what he did was wrong, would ever bring anyone peace. So my wish for something “visceral and inhumane” doesn’t serve me or anyone else.

What, then?

Maybe a guilty verdict for Michael Slager. Maybe for Daniel Pantaleo. For Timothy Loehmann. For Joseph Weekley. For Stephen Stem. For Jeronimo Yanez. For Darren Wilson …

Maybe a country in which I wouldn’t need to write this.

Maybe.

I always wanted to believe we would grow up to be that country. Of course I did.

But …

At least today Dylan Roof is guilty. At least there is that.

It isn’t enough.

Of course it’s not.

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Flesh, Blood, Breath

Bury the bodies. Each sacred, each loved. Linger over choosing the right outfit, the right music, the flowers that will make the going-home service exactly what you want. As if this service could ever be exactly what you want. Bury the bodies. With friends and family standing on cold, windswept knolls, on sunny patches of technicolor grass, in crocus-dotted fields thick with post-winter mud, in the shadow of elevated tracks in the heat of July. Bury the bodies. Tamir, Akai, Pearlie, Yvette, Eric, Trayvon, Rekia, Eleanor, Michael, Oscar, Tarika, Aiyana, Derek, Sean, Shereese, Miriam. Bury the bodies. Keep the memories fresh with stories and photos. Bury the bodies. Tanisha, Jordan, Shelly, Amadou, Darnisha, John, Malissa, Ramarley, Alesia, Patrick, Shantel, Rumain, Kathryn, Ezell, Deion, Alberta, Kimani, Kendra, Reynaldo. Bury the bodies. Bury all of the bodies. Bury each of the bodies. Say: “Not one more,” every single time. Bury the bodies. Understand that, with the amount of ground that has swallowed our loves, we could have built our own colony, built our own society. Understand that it wouldn’t have mattered, that hate would still have come for us. Breathe. Bury the bodies. Bury the bodies. Bury the bodies. When there is no room left for our dead, how will hate erase us then?


And another year of 30 poems in 30 days comes to a close. As I did last year, followed along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. For the month’s final poem:

Take the phrase “Bury the (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem.

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Did you write poems this month? Where can I see them?
Are you exhausted after this 30/30 craziness?

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So yes, that mom slapping her son around and dragging him away from the protests in Baltimore.

I’m not a parent, but I can understand not wanting your child to be in the middle of a situation that could turn ugly in a nanosecond. How could I not understand that?

But …

While I am definitely feeling some kind of way about the fact that she is suddenly a media darling, being feted on the morning news shows and called a hero … one of the ways I’m not feeling is surprised. Is anyone surprised ? Does anyone honestly believe all the positive attention being showered on this woman is coming from a place of understanding her fear for her son and her urgent need to get him out of harm’s way? Because what I see is a media machine with an agenda. A media machine thrilled to death at the sight of a Black woman slapping the crap out of a young Black man. A media machine that has been pressuring every Black person it can get its hands on to condemn the protests (yes, Wolf, I’m looking at you, but not only at you). And this mother has served herself up to the machine wrapped in a glittery bow.

Watching the salivating anchors show that footage over and over yesterday made me sick. Do I think that mom shouldn’t have pulled her son out of the protests? Of course not. That’s her baby. She should want to fight for his safety. I just wish she’d found a different way to do it, a way that wouldn’t have been such a silver-plattered offering to the narrative white supremacist culture is pushing so hard every day, the narrative that spins this story away from the facts we should be discussing.

Sometimes moms need to slap sense into children’s heads — figuratively more than literally, I hope — but that’s not the solution to institutional racism. For the last day, folks have been trying to convince me that having more moms take an open palm to their kids’ heads is all we need to resolve these issues. As if.

But of course that’s where the machine wants to point us. Because if that could ever, in any reality, be true, a) there would be no reason to talk or do anything about structural racism, racial prejudice, a history of violence and injustice against Black people, or the ways that history continues to play out in our day to day lives; b) white supremacy would get the every-night pleasure of seeing Black mothers beating their children on television, which would c) confirm the stereotypes of the angry Black woman and the good-for-nothing young Black man; d) white supremacy could sit back and relax because all of the it’s-not-about-race race problems could be laid at the feet of bad Black parenting, all those Black mothers who haven’t beaten their children with sufficient intensity to solve the world’s problems.

Still feeling a lot of different kinds of ways.

Clearly.

I Am Beautiful when I’m Angry

What nobody knows is that my anger and I are growing closer. She has revealed herself to have a sensuous, molten core of rage, and I have revealed myself to have a ravenous attraction to it. Deep gold fire coating my fingers like honey each time I dip in. She doles it out slowly, allowing my system to adjust to the weight and power, the gift. But the world accelerates the process, dashing salt on every bite, intensifying the flavor, expanding my hunger. Every body left in the street. Salt. Every officer unindicted. Salt. Every media hack shilling for white supremacy. Salt. This rage — rich and thick, with the sweet burn of cayenne chocolates and tamarind candies, no less potent for surfacing in words. Delicious. Mine. 


As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a “what nobody knows” poem.

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them?
Let’s share this craziness!

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Here is a thing. There’s been a lot of commentary on my FB feed today about Baltimore. Tonight, a friend posted a great note about her privilege as a white woman and the things she’s able to do without fear of rousing the suspicions or violence of police. Another woman — a friend? a co-worker? — commented, “Not all cops behave in the same manner.” I responded to my friend’s post and then in parentheses mentioned to the other woman that I wasn’t sure what point she wanted to make. That was all I said. I bit back the first thoughts I had. I wanted to leave her some room to help me understand. Instead, she came back with: @Stacie: “Not all cops behave in the same manner.”

Seriously? I tried to act as if I couldn’t see you the first time, but this? Oh, I see you just fine. My response: “Yes, M_____. I read your comment. Twice now. What point, in relationship to K____’s point, are you trying to make?”

Dig me, making a halfway attempt to stay level-headed, skating on the inside edge of my politeness. Because really, your response is to just repeat your nonsense as if I was too dense to understand it the first time, or that perhaps I can’t read well or lack sufficient comprehension skills? Right. But I kept it gentle, still wanting to give this woman a chance to say something that has some meaning, that maybe offers a window into another mindset, that moves this painful conversation forward. Because really, she could have meant any number of things, many of which could have been not at all problematic or derailing. So of course it makes sense to give her a chance to say any of that.

Her response:

I’m not really interested in communicating with you unless we do so over coffee. We don’t know each other, so perhaps it’s best we meet and chat. I really don’t think I want to have a long discussion behind my computer. Things always get lost in translation. We may agree, we may disagree, but via a Facebook post I may be misunderstood and so could you. Good night!

Right.

So yes, she’s 100% correct: we don’t know each other, and these conversations are charged even among friends, and having them anonymously online is neither easy nor ideal. But you know what? If that’s the way you feel, why are you commenting on such a difficult subject from “behind your computer” in the first place? You commented because you a) thought you could put something out there and just leave it and no one would call you on your mess, or b) because you were hoping for someone to agree with you and push back against K____’s nicely-stated point about white privilege and the myth of a post-racial society. Instead you got me, the dreaded option c: Completely seeing the mess, Calling you out, Cordially asking you to explain yourself.

And then you’re suddenly uninterested in talking online. Suddenly you want to have coffee with a stranger so you can be understood … except, of course, that you don’t really want to have coffee with this stranger, because you end your response by closing the door, not suggesting a message or that K____ introduce us or anything that makes your coffee foolishness sound real.

(Which makes that comment read a little differently to me: “I’m  not really interested in communicating with you unless we do so over coffee. We don’t know each other, so perhaps it’s best we meet and chat. I really don’t think I want to have a long discussion behind my computer. Things always get lost in translation. We may agree, we may disagree, but via a Facebook post I may be misunderstood and so could you. Good night!” You know, or something.

Then she deleted the comment and replaced it with: “And note that many of my family members are african american and trying to make a real difference in our society.”

Really. Of course that “trying to make a real difference” is stuck in my teeth. And yeah, some of my best friends …

The words we choose, people. The words we choose. Because she’s right: things get lost in translation. Things like my patience. Lost.

A Smattering of Mattering

Again, people. Again and again, and then again. Today Baltimore. Tomorrow, anywhere. Anywhere. Is that clear yet? You insist on hastagging about “all lives,” insist that this isn’t about race, insist that the problem is the looters, the “thugs” who just make it bad for everyone. You do a lot of insisting. I’m not trying to force anything down your throat. Neither do I want your insistences forced down mine. I just want to breathe. I just want to live. You want me to walk your line, take up your call. Why can’t you shift to my side of that line, why can’t you let yourself say the words, use the tag #BlackLivesMatter? In the multiverse of this history of pain, denial, and erasure, why can’t you see that your “all lives” chant is a crushing blow, a negation, a boot on my throat? Why are you so invested in writing my narrative, in telling me what I should care about, what “really” matters? 

Because when I saw today’s poetry prompt, the first two things that came into my head were — in order: #BlackLivesMatter and “Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Johnny’s so long at the fair.”

Way too long at the fair. Left you home to start figuring out all this racial prejudice stuff on your own. Damn that Johnny.


As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is the final two-for-Tuesday prompt:

  1. Write a matter poem. Matter is what things are made of.
  2. Write an anti-matter poem. The opposite of a matter poem.

You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them?
Let’s share this craziness!

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Yesterday I wore a dress. It’s not a big deal, or shouldn’t be. I was still beat to my socks after Saturday’s adventure, and I had to sit on a panel mid-day, and I wanted to perk myself up. So I wore a new dress, a dress that hits just about at my knees. For me, this is as out of character as wearing a micro-mini. Folks who know me: when have you ever seen my legs? Seriously. But I’ve been wearing “short” dresses for a few months now, so it’s weird but becoming not weird for me.

So I wore a dress. With tights and boots. I went to work, I went uptown to sit on the panel. I left the place where the event was held and walked to the subway.

“Nobody wants to see that.”

I heard this semi-surly voice say that as I headed down Park Avenue. I kept walking because it seemed to be one of the random snippets of someone else’s conversation that filter into your consciousness.

“Big-legged women in short dresses. You’re too big. Believe me, no one wants to see that.”

This time, the speaker — a small, maybe-40-year-old Black man in a leather stadium coat over a suit — got right up on me to say what he had to say.

People often tell me they’re surprised by the things folks have no problem saying to me. I’m not surprised. Certainly not about this. Being rude and insulting to fat people is the last truly safe bullying, discriminatory behavior people have. Yes, you can be a jerk about all kinds of things, but there will almost always be someone ready to speak up for the person you’re insulting, someone ready to call you out on your racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-semitism, ableism. With fat people, that’s pretty much never going to be the case. Fat people, because we have the audacity to be fat, are assumed to deserve whatever bile you choose to spit on us.

But you know what? Not really. And not me.

I stopped and looked at him. I made a dramatic “shocked” face, complete with one hand on my cheek and my mouth in a stunned “O.”

“Really?!” I asked.

He looked pleased, ready to tell me all about how disgusted he felt at the sight of me.

I dropped my hand and smiled. “Good thing what I wear has absolutely nothing to do with anyone but me.” I looked down, gave myself a once-over. “You’re only seeing my legs because you’re looking at them.” I started walking again. “You don’t like what you see? Look at something else.”

Yes, it hurts my feelings to have some jackass say no one wants to see a woman who looks like me. But you know? I’m not here for anyone’s fat-shaming. I’m not here for men thinking I can or should be ruled by their gaze. I’m not here for strangers on the street who think they have anything to say about what I choose to wear, how I wear it, or how I look wearing it. You can miss me with all of that.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

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This morning I learned that Speaker Man had a truly not-cool interaction with another black man at one of these meetings several months ago. I learned this as I was on my way out the door because …

Today was a Girls Write Now workshop day. And today’s genre was poetry. And I was thinking about Speaker Man and his shenanigans. So, when it became clear we were going to write poems in the voice of some person or animal or object, I knew I was going to write as Speaker Man. And then I remembered a wonderful poetry exercise I did a few months ago, writing one side of a conversation. Then, after lots of pre-writing and discussion, we got to the “Compelled to Speak” exercise and had to actually craft our poems. And so …

Compelled to Speak

I. Call

You say you notice a pattern?
In my behavior?
Listen —
I know myself.
I know what’s in my heart.
Any “pattern” you think
you see —
that’s about you.
I sleep well at night.
I can look in the mirror and like who I see.
Whatever pattern you see,
that’s your imagination.

Listen —
I have black friends.

I have a black friend.
And if you asked him about me —
How long have I known him?
For years.
How do I know him?
Does that matter?
I think you’re straying from —
What’s his name?
Do you think I don’t know his name?

Well, I don’t know his name, exactly,
but we get along fine.
He doesn’t care
what I call him.
Well, I call him “Chief,” or “Boss.”
Well, of course I know your name.
I’ve confused you with Margaret?
Have I? Called you her name?
Talked to you about her program
as if it were yours?
Don’t be so sensitive.
I meet a lot of people.
Sometimes I get confused.
Listen —
none of this creates a pattern.
Why do you have to make everything about race?
Why are you so angry?

And then we did some small-group reading and discussion and everyone wrote out questions they had about each poem, things they wanted to hear more about. One of the questions I got was: What was the tone on the other side of the conversation? Is it your intention to let the reader decide?

To the second question, yes. Yes, I want the reader to imagine what the other speaker’s tone might be. For the first question, I wrote a second poem during the final workshop activity:

II. Response

Do I make everything about race?
Okay, maybe. Probably.
But would I have to
if you didn’t shower me in microaggressions?

You’re right — I’m so angry.
I’m always angry.
I’m glad you can hear it.

Do you think
I enjoy making everything about race?
I would rather
talk, just talk.
I would rather live. Just live.
But you brought us here.
You let your inner white supremacist out.

You brought us here.
And you’ve got me by the throat,
so I can’t help but follow.

I’m not particularly fair to Speaker Man here. (Big surprise.) He’ll have to write his own poems if he wants kinder treatment.

I, in all my stubbornly-proud not-a-poet-ness, like both of these. Not because they’re great poems, but because it was a great exercise, thinking about what confronting Speaker Man might have been like was a great way for me to think through yesterday.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

 

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FYI: My apologies to anyone who subscribes to the blog who got a message about a different post this morning. You may have clicked over here and found there was no such post. Yes, that would be what happens when I click “publish” instead of “save draft.” I hadn’t written much of that post, and then I went to Girls Write Now and was inspired to write a whole other post, so I’ll get to the “Leland” post tomorrow.

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