The Shocking Tragedy of Negroes Who Pass As White (Jan, 1960)

This article manages to be incredibly condescending, naive, and wrong all at the same time.

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The Shocking Tragedy of Negroes Who Pass As White

by ERNEST WARREN

Back in the days when recognition was just coming to him, Sammy Davis, Jr., looked like the ideal choice to fill an important serio-dramatic part in a new movie. When the expected bid failed to materialize, a friend tried to console Sammy. “Don’t worry about it, kid,” the friend said, “You know you’re better than the guy they picked.

“Sure I do,” said Sammy, bitterly ‘”but I also know one thing they didn’t want to tell me: I didn*t get the part because I’m a Negro.”

Sammy Has No Worries Now Today, due to his success as ‘Sportin’ Life’ in ‘Porgy Aand Bess’, as well as the strict anti-discrimination laws that have been passed and are strongly enforced, Sammy Davis, Jr. has no worry about future parts.

In Las Vegas sometime back, another Negro proved his mettle when he showed he knew the score as well as Sammy Davis did. He is Harry Belafonte who refused to work in the notoriously Jim Crow town unless he was given accommodations befitting his status as an artist. He won—thereby paving the way for future Negro artists and, in the winning, wiping out a pernicious practise that used to see headliners like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat (King) Cole sleeping out instead of being the invited guests of the hotels they entertained in.

The list has since become longer. Lena Home, married to bandleader Lenny Hayton walked out on an engagement when she had an argument over accommodations. So, too did Herb Jeffries a light-complexioned artist married to a white girl.

In the light of such valiant resistance, it seems well-nigh incredible that some five million Negroes have turned their backs on their own race and are passing as white. For almost a quarter of a century, this fantastic lie has been lived by large groups of Negroes with no sign of abatement despite the strong gains that have been made by the champions of anti-segregation.

In the year 1960 alone more than 60,000 negroes are expected to “disappear”, cross the invisible color line into the world of whites. These are not just dreamed up figures. They are actual facts. Just as it is a fact that no one ever reports a Negro to the Missing Persons Bureau unless they are absolutely sure the missing human isn’t passing.

Many shocking incidents were brought to light some years back in a sensational book, ‘Black Metropolis’ by St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton. The authors claim that many “white negroes” as passers are called— hold strong positions in the white world as physicians, scientists, and public administrators—despite the fact that many such jobs are also held by Negroes unashamed of their race.

Others With Passers Well The late Walter White, himself a Negro, and one of the prime movers in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, once attempted to clarify the problem of passing. He said: “Negroes naturally resent the loss of some of the brilliant minds which would be an asset to them in their grim struggle for survival. But if any Negro believes he will be happier living as a white and thereby escape the barbs and handicaps of prejudices, or if he believes he can use his ability and training to greater advantage on the other side of the racial line, most Negroes wish him well.”

When it comes to passing, although most Negroes today refuse to condone it, they will not tell on one another. Most seem to understand the reasoning that prompts lighter-hued members of their race wanting to cross over.

“We know there are stronger anti-discrimination laws than ever before,” they will tell you, “but when a negro has a white skin, he seems to have a compulsion to live the way of the people who have so long opposed him. He doesn’t seem to realize that scientists have proven that the very people who condemn him might not be in a position to do so.”

Grim Joke to Whole Deal A scientist like those mentioned above is Dr. Caroline Day, of Atlanta University, who wrote in her famous Harvard African Studies: “The grim joke of the whole matter is that for 150 years and more the Negro has been absorbed and his descendants are constantly rubbing elbows with some of the very ones who are discussing them.”

Even the fact that people, who believe all passers are eventually found out because their children are sure to be black, are merely deluding themselves, hasn’t deterred the practise of passing. Science took the inherited color theory apart a long time ago, with the aid of such eminent savants as Amram Schienfeld, Dr. Ernest A. Hooten and the late Dr. Edward M. East, who theorized thus; “If one of the parents is pure white, the baby cannot he darker than the darker parent. If they both have Negro blood, the baby may be slightly darker than its parents hut the chances are against it.”

With the legalization of racial intermarriage approved in some 22 states, nobody has been able to upset their theory – though, obviously, chances to do so have been many.

Yet the “passers” themselves seldom worry about theories. The “permanent passer”, going over the line, never comes back. He prefers to end his days living a big white lie; and women passers who marry bear children and keep their secret for life.

Only under unusual circumstances, such as the one that befell the wife of a prominent socialite, does a sensational exposure ever occur. This was the Leonard Kip Rhinelander case, which rated lurid headlines when the socialite playboy sought to have his marriage to Alice Jones set aside. Rhinelander claimed his wife was colored and failed to tell him so. In her defense, Alice stripped to the waist and bared her breasts to the jury, thus providing the sensation-seeking New York Graphic with a classic composite-photo of this closed door session for its front page.

Besides the “permanent passer”, the “segmental passer” stands without guilt or censure. The “segmental passers” lead a dual life; whites by day, Negroes by night. You’ll often find them in jobs where opposition to Negroes is strong but secret-Some are telephone operators, receptionist, typists, clerks in large corporations and in department stores, where, though some Negroes are employed the unspoken policy is “Enough is enough.”

On Broadway, particularly, the Negro girl has a tough time getting a chorus or showgirl job. There is a story current of a Negro showgirl, allegedly passing as white, who was recognized by a popular Negro singer, but he refused to reveal her secret. He also reportedly wouldn’t talk to the girl, not because of her “passing” but because of her more than passing interest in a white socialite-playboy who met her nightly.

“Obviously she hasn’t learned yet that mixed marriages are no longer looked on with horror,” a Negro artist told INSIDE STORY, “so she’ll go on living her lie and, in the long run, probably find her heart broken because she feels she can’t reveal her secret to the man should he want to marry her. Life will never be easy for her. She not only sometimes has to listen to blasts against her race, but worry every moment about being exposed.”

While there’s no way of truly gauging the number of passers operating, some estimate is arrived at by studies of census reports, immigration records, vital statistics and information from other sources. Yet this does not take into account the ”segmental passer” or the passer who, in the past, was known as an “occasional” a reference to light-hued Negroes who occasionally went downtown to segregated areas and, as a lark, spent their money on white entertainment.

Actually, when it comes to “passing”, the shocked might as well face these facts: Passers not only go through life as white, they have children who look (and are) white. Any anthropologist will tell you that if a person has one-sixteenth or less of Negro blood—it is impossible to determine his or her ancestry.

The same goes for any difference in formation of legs and feet, a myth that should have been blasted long ago. If you should lower a curtain to the hips of light hued Negro girls, some Chinese girls, and some white girls, and show only their legs you wouldn’t be able to tell one color from another. What’s more, the chances are that the Negroes will have better limbs.

Yet, the practice of passing still continues, much to the chagrin, not necessarily the shame, of the Negro who believes in living as he was born. To such a Negro, there can be only one honest goal: the elimination of the invisible color boundary which for so many years unfairly kept him from his rightful place in the sun. The passer, working in the movies, working as a white actress or a showgirl, or a model or a clerk, or a receptionist doesn’t think of this. He’s thinking of himself. Or herself. And that, to a good many Negroes, is a “shameful secret!

27 comments
  1. John Savard says: March 19, 20109:29 am

    Indeed. Why is it any of a bigot’s business what someone’s ethnic ancestry happens to be?

  2. Belinda says: March 19, 20102:48 pm

    Imagine–Inside Story having a stupid scare piece? In 1960, no less? Why be outraged? It didn’t appear in the New York Times.

  3. JMyint says: March 19, 20104:17 pm

    The world was far different in 1960 than it is today. It wasn’t until 1967 and the Loving vs. the State of Virginia that the laws against interracial marriage in this country were struck down. My mother and father had to go to another state to get married in 1953 because of the law against whites marrying non-whites in Missouri. It was not unusual for light skinned blacks to get a job only to lose it when the employer found out their race. It is one thing to look back on articles like this with our 21st century eyes and think how pathetic the writer must have been but it was a different time.

  4. David Moisan says: March 20, 20107:30 pm

    Made me think of “Black Like Me”; the author “blacked” himself to see what it was like being a black person. He passed away a few years go, but I’ll not forget the reactions he wrote of near the end when he found an effigy of himself, half black half white with a yellow streak down the middle. Nearby, a note was tagged: “Fine for disposing of dead animals: $20″.

  5. Charlie says: March 20, 20108:45 pm

    And of course Eddie Murphy long ago proved the advantages of passing as white:
    http://www.snotr.com/vi…

  6. Scott says: March 25, 20107:37 am

    Why is anybody’s business who Tiger Woods slept with, or what Hollywood bimbo divorced what Hollywood bimbo. People are sheep, and want to know worthless stuff. get over it.

  7. Firebrand38 says: March 25, 20107:45 am

    Scott: And of course that has NOTHING to do with this article. Get over it yourself.

  8. Hans says: April 1, 20109:40 pm

    A negro can never pass as a white .But a Mulatto can. And there in lies the folly of all this.They are Mulatto’s or coloured plain and simple.The silly Jim Crowe rules have long been rescinded but is still accepted.

  9. A.D. Powell says: May 2, 20109:08 am

    I hope you realize that the above article is very racist and deserves to be classed with Nazi propaganda denouncing the “contamination” of “Aryan” lineage with “inferior” Jewish or other “non-Aryan” blood.

    I can tell you for a fact that it is the black-identified elite who promote the myth that mixed-white people aren’t good enough for their own ancestry. Most fellow whites don’t care to force other whites into the “black race.”

    The people accused of “passing” deserve praise for claiming their rightful heritage and rejecting the “black lie.”

    By the way, nearly all Hispanics and Arabs are partially “black” to various degrees. I note that the black-identified elites don’t dare to claim them. Mixed Anglos and Creoles deserve the same respect.

    A.D. Powell, former columnist for the web sites “Interracial Voice” and “The Multiracial Activist,” is the author of “Passing” for Who You Really Are: Essays in Support of Multiracial Whiteness.

  10. Firebrand38 says: May 2, 20109:41 am

    A.D. Powell: “I hope you realize that the above article is very racist”

    Well, Duh!

    Apart from that your book sounds interesting.

  11. George A. Winkel says: May 2, 20103:22 pm

    Ernest Warren, in the closing paragraph of his 1960 rail against “Passing,” evoked:

    “[T]he Negro who believes in living as he was born. To such a Negro, there can be only one honest goal: the elimination of the invisible color boundary ….”

    The quote accurately reflects my understanding (my memory) of the civil rights goal of racial integration in 1960 and for years afterward. The goal was “the elimination of the invisible [i.e., scientifically 'indefinable'] color boundary.” In the 1960s erasing the dividing line meant, of course, ending stigmatizing racial “color” classifications, with their pseudo-scientific implications of “incipient species” or the asynchronous evolution preached by Prof. Carlton Coon, who was then in his heyday.

    A few years later the way to racial integration was thrown wide open. The federal desegregation acts of 1964, ’65 paled in comparison to Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), which functionally deconstructed the “white race” by overturning the former “one-drop rule,” its defining, its purifying “whiteness” with the force of felony criminal law. We have no “white race” anymore impossible as a blend, as was believed in 1960.

    So –why do the stigmatizing “races” (named for “colors”) still divide us? Whose oppressive political advocacy upholds them now? Who harangued us very recently to “mark just one box” on the 2010 census?

  12. colormethis says: June 2, 20106:08 pm

    my mom & many relatives are ‘negroes’ & you’d be hard pressed to find out–most children consider them white…we are ALL 1!

  13. Observer says: February 13, 20117:56 am

    I as a white female find A.D.Powell to be PATHETIC and hilarious!
    Doesn’t A.D.Powell realize that she will never gain a Klan membership? I myself find the Klan to be gross and disgusting…but I am sure A.D.Powell finds them to be delightful and intelligent in her sick twisted little mind.

    GET OVER YOURSELF A.D.POWELL! YOU WILL NEVER BE A PART OF MY RACE! YOU ARE NOT AND NEVER WILL BE A WHITE WOMAN!

  14. A.D. Powell says: February 28, 20119:22 pm

    The idiot “Observer” is NOT a “white woman” but only a jealous, black-identified idiot pretending to be one. All of you sound so alike in your idiotic arguments, one would think you all took the same course in racial nonsense.

    Oh, since the vast majority of my FELLOW whites are NOT “Klan members,” you have foolishly just redefined them out of “whiteness.” Now, who will you blame for all your troubles?

  15. Mixed White says: March 2, 20117:29 pm

    I’m sorry A.D Powell but you do not look white, maybe you should claim Hispanic. And btw why won’t you post a newer picture of yourself? Did you darken with age or something? LOL! Your “fellow” whites are probably all laughing their asses off at you behind your back.

    And before you accuse me of being a jealous Black, I am a true Mixed White because I actually look like a white women. Sorry. XD

  16. John says: March 2, 20119:34 pm

    Mixed White: I just accuse you of being a bitch.
    Based on your comments to Ms Powell you can definitely pass for White Trash.

  17. Mixed White says: March 3, 20115:34 pm

    It’s funny how Ms. Powell can be as cruel as she pleases to people who she assumes are black but no one ever calls her on it ever. As part of the multiracial community I’ve been following her antics for years and I’m disgusted and fed up with her bigotry and thinly veiled racialism.

    I don’t see how I was being cruel, I just said she doesn’t look all that white, you can tell from her features that she’s mixed. Apparently you think telling someone they don’t look white is some sort of terrible insult? If that makes me a bitch so be it. XD

    I’ve long considered a white Identity since I’m white-skinned with Caucasian features, generally seen as white and have always Identifies more as white than black. Ironically A.D Powell and her crazy fanboys have given me second thoughts…I just don’t want to be associated with someone hate-filled like her. I avoid anyone who vilifies an entire group of people for their own agenda.

    I don’t doubt that she’s primarily white, but I do have a hard time believing that she’s seen as white by people around her. She just comes across way too angry and bitter, and in my experience it’s the people who see themselves as white but don’t look or are treated as white are the one who rage and blame blacks for their social reality.

  18. Lady A says: March 3, 20115:37 pm

    It’s funny how Ms. Powell can be as cruel as she pleases to people who she assumes are black but no one ever calls her on it ever. As part of the multiracial community I’ve been following her antics for years and I’m disgusted and fed up with her bigotry and thinly veiled racialism.

    I don’t see how I was being cruel, I just said she doesn’t look all that white, you can tell from her features that she’s mixed. Apparently you think telling someone they don’t look white is some sort of terrible insult? If that makes me a bitch so be it. XD

    I’ve long considered a white Identity since I’m white-skinned with Caucasian features, generally seen as white and have always Identifies more as white than black. Ironically A.D Powell and her crazy fanboys have given me second thoughts…I just don’t want to be associated with someone hate-filled like her. I avoid anyone who vilifies an entire group of people for their agenda.

    I don’t doubt that she’s probably primary white, but I do have a hard time believing that she’s seen as white by people around her. She just comes across way too angry and bitter, and in my experience it’s the people who see themselves as white but don’t look or are treated as white are the one who rage and blame blacks for their social reality.

  19. John says: March 3, 20116:26 pm

    Lady A: Gee, you can say that again!

    And no my characterization came from your (or I should say Mixed White’s) comment of “Your “fellow” whites are probably all laughing their asses off at you behind your back.”

    Pretending to have psychic abilities doesn’t cut much ice with me.

    All this fuss and bother over melanin levels in skin cells. To me it has as much relevance as shoe size.

  20. Mixed White says: March 3, 201110:39 pm

    Eh, it didn’t seem to post the first (actually first few times) I tried and I wanted to change my screen name what of it? It’s not like I pretended to be a different person.

    Note that I said probably. Does ‘probably’ sound definitive to you? Like I’m somehow making a psychic prediction? You obviously fail at reading comprehension John. ;) But I will admit that it was a needlessly mean thing to say on my part, so my apologies. But I do have black family members and friends that I love dearly so I find the ugly things she generalizes about blacks upsetting.

    I find it curious that you don’t address a single one of the issues I have with A.D Powell.

    I wish skin color had as much significance as shoe size. (good to see you’ve read Davis Pilgrims article) and hopefully it will matter less and less as time goes on.

  21. John says: March 3, 201111:13 pm

    Mixed White: Actually I’m better at comprehension than your skill at writing because the definition of probably is “in all likelihood or probability”. Its moot because you apologized after all.

    Looking in a good thesaurus we see:
    1. probably – with considerable certainty; without much doubt; “He is probably out of the country”; “in all likelihood we are headed for war”
    2. probably – easy to believe on the basis of available evidence; “he talked plausibly before the committee”; “he will probably win the election”

    “What of it”? Throttle back the defensiveness. Trust me, writing an identical copy of a message under different names didn’t throw me as much as you probably think it did.

    For future reference if a post fails to show up either e-mail Charlie or wait for him and his minions to move the post out of the spam filter.

    Hey, its your issue I was just weighing in on your rhetoric.

  22. Mixed White says: March 4, 20111:05 am

    ….

    Based on the definitions you provided, No I didn’t use “probably” incorrectly, and my statement did not imply that I knew with absolute certainty that people were laughing at her. In fact had I left out “probably” you’re “psychic ability” crack would’ve made a lot more sense. *shrug*

  23. Mixed White says: March 4, 20111:24 am

    Since I’ve been experiencing a nasty bout Troll’s remorse, I’d like to extend an apology to Ms. Powell for my remarks concerning her appearance. I dealt with that constantly from my very cruel grandmother, and I should know better than to do that to someone else. :(

  24. Heather says: March 9, 201112:21 pm

    I had contentious dealings with A.D. Powell back when I was in college, on the Interracial Voice site. That was, oh, 13 years ago. It’s really to see that she has not grown any less bitter. When I was arguing with her, I was an angry undergraduate, and you know how college students like to argue. Now, seeing she is pretty much the same, I just feel deeply sad rather than angry. I know what anger does to a person–it doesn’t hurt the people you lash out at, it just eats at you. I know this only too well.

    What I never understood was, why she didn’t just identify herself as white and go on with her life instead of spewing hatred at black people. As she herself has noted, many Hispanics have black ancestry and are not identified as black. I don’t see why it couldn’t be the same for her. If you’re reading this, A.D., just do it! You spend so much time raging at black people–have black people really “forced” you to ID as black? Unless you live in a majority black community, which I doubt (and if you do, it’s long, long past time you left) what control do black people have over you? None, really. Just do it.

  25. anonymous says: April 20, 20119:26 pm

    “never understood was, why she didn’t just identify herself as white and go on with her life instead of spewing hatred at black people. As she herself has noted, many Hispanics have black ancestry and are not identified as black. I don’t see why it couldn’t be the same for her.”

    I’m pretty sure she identifies as white already, but prehaps she’s not seen as white socially so she still lashes out at blacks. Why would someone who’s as bigoted against blacks as she is and looks totally white go around online drawing attention to the fact she’s mixed with black instead of just living as a white person?

  26. Shineon83 says: December 19, 20125:30 pm

    Why all of the very nasty comments regarding A.D. Powell’s racial profile? She’s white. Period. Not only because she looks caucasian, but because she self-identifies as such. Both sets of my grandparents immigrated to America in the 1930′s as small children from Norway and Sweden, respectively, so obviously, I’m on the “fair” side….I’ve never understood, however, how someone could be classified as “black,” when, for example, 3 of the individual’s 4 grandparents are white….isn’t calling oneself “black” under such circumstances denying one’s “whiteness”?

  27. AllPeople says: April 10, 20138:35 am

    .
    Modern society really needs to begin to
    understand the simple fact that — THERE
    IS NO SUCH THING AS A so-called
    ‘LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK’ person.
    .
    The truth of the matter is that such individuals
    are actually (and quite simply) people who are
    of a ‘Multi-Generational Multiracially-Mixed’
    (MGM-Mixed) Lineage — lineage that some of
    them may have been pressured and / or otherwise
    “encouraged” to ignore, downplay or even deny.

    .
    http://dir.groups.yahoo…
    .

    THESE (falsely) “black-categorized”
    INDIVIDUALS ARE, in actuality, the
    people who are actually of a continually
    MIXED-RACE lineage — and the very
    term, itself, of “Light-Skin(ned) Black”
    is merely a racist-oxymoron that – (much
    like the racist-‘One-Drop Rule’ upon
    which this racist-term is actually based) –
    was created by racial-supremacists in an
    attempt to degrade Black blood lines.

    .
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~.
    .

    THE ONLY WAY that a MIXED-RACE
    person COULD BE viewed upon as being
    racially-”BLACK” IS VIA an adherence
    to THE RACIST-‘ONE-DROP RULE’.

    THE RACIST-‘ONE-DROP RULE’ was a 100%
    non-scientific, socially-constructed “rule” that
    WAS CREATED by racial-supremacists in an
    insulting attempt TO DEGRADE all BLACK
    BLOOD LINEAGE – AND – which WAS also
    LEGALLY-BANNED in the U.S. back IN 1967.

    .
    http://dir.groups.yahoo…
    .

    The FACT that the racist-’One-Drop Rule’ was
    created to DEGRADE Black blood lineage means
    that any BLACK person who supports the (clearly
    ‘Black-Lineage Degrading’) racist-’One-Drop Rule’
    either has no self-esteem, is insane and / or is an idiot.
    .
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    .

    (((The LINKS in the SIDEBAR of my YouTube
    CHANNEL explain this in greater detail.
    .
    https://www.youtube.com… )))

    .
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    .

    People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT
    feel pressured to ‘identify’ according to
    any standards other than one’s own.
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com…

    .
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    .

    http://groups.yahoo.com…
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com…

    .
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    .

    Listed below are related Links of ‘the facts’ of the histories
    of various Mixed-Race populations found within the U.S.:

    .
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    .

    There is no proof that a ‘color-based slave hierarchy’
    (or that ‘color-based social-networks’) ever existed
    as common entities — within the continental U.S.

    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com…
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com…
    .

    It was the ‘Rule of Matriliny (ROM) —
    [a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus' (ROP)] — and
    NOT the racist-’One-Drop Rule’ (ODR) —
    that was used to ‘create more enslaved
    people’ on the continental U.S.
    .
    This is because the chattel-slavery system that was
    once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.
    was NOT “color-based” (i.e. “racial”) — but rather
    – it was actually “mother-based” (i.e. ‘matrilineal’).
    .
    http://www.facebook.com…
    .
    There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault
    and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which
    ‘white’ lineage entered the familial bloodlines of
    enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com…
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com…
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com…

    .
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    .

    An ‘Ethnic’ category is NOT the
    same thing as a “Race” category:
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com…
    .
    http://www.facebook.com…

    .
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    .

    Other Topics:
    .
    https://www.facebook.co…
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    https://www.facebook.co…
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    http://www.facebook.com…
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    http://www.facebook.com…
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    http://groups.yahoo.com…
    .
    http://www.facebook.com…

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    .

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