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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

At what age did you first encounter racism or it wasn’t until later you found out?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26879points) April 24th, 2011

When you first encountered racism in your life did you really know? Was it simply prejudice disguised as racism? When I was in the 4th grade about (and I am dating myself here, it was the late 60s) my best school pal was this red-head freckled kid (no Irish jokes) named Randy. During free play time we enjoyed challenging each other to building contest with the Legos. Then this blonde German kid cam to class and moved in on the 3some to make it a 2some with me out of it. No matter how much I tried to be friendly to him he was cold and distant. He didn’t want me to speak to Randy or touch anything he was playing with. It was still about 2 generations past WWII but I didn’t know about Nazi ideology. I just to call him a Nazi even though I didn’t know what they were all about because it enraged him. Later as I started to learn more about Hitler and his vision of the Master Race from history classes later on it kind of shed light on why this kid acted the way he did. If his father was in the war fighting for Germany his dad would have been between 45 to maybe 56yr depending on how young he was during the war and his grandparents would have been in their 60s to 70s and could have been supporters of that thinking. I chalked that up to my first “in your face” bout of racism, but at the time I know I didn’t like it I just didn’t have a name for it. Did you have such a memory directed at you, your family or your parents?

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60 Answers

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I remember being about 3yrs old and excitedly pointing out to my grandmother some anglo looking kids I saw playing in their front yard when she said to me, ”No, you don’t want to play with white kids because they’re dirty. They don’t wash their hands, their parents don’t keep their clothes clean and you can get ringworm and lice from them.”

Okay, I was a pretty lonely kid for awhile.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I have no idea if this counts.. but my youngest memory of such a thing really revolved around how much my grandfather hated the Russians. My family is Ukrainian, and my grandfather would get furious if someone called us Russian. I can’t really remember anything specific that he said offhand, I just know that he talked about it often.
Though, before he was put in into labor camps in Germany during the war, the Russians had caused them a lot of suffering. I always thought it was strange that he didn’t hold the same anger toward Germans as he did for Russians, but that is the only thing that jumps out at me.
As for other experiences with racism growing up.. not really. I went to a very diverse school, and I just don’t remember any early experiences where someone was singled out because of their background or skin color, especially before I understood what it was.

KateTheGreat's avatar

My story lines up with @ANef_is_Enuf.‘s I am Russian, so I was always looked down upon by others. I lived in Estonia, Germany, and a few other countries, and a lot of families didn’t want me to hang out with their children.

When I moved to America, racism was even more apparent. Everyone made fun of my accent and to this day, they still assume I’m a Russian whore who will marry anyone for money. Or they assume I’m a Russian prostitute.

JLeslie's avatar

I first heard of slavery when I was in first grade, I remember it clearly, because it was so confusing. I also grew up knowing about the holocaust, and being Jewish was always aware that people can hate you just for being born.

I can’t remember actually encountering racism or extreme prejudice until I moved to NC when I was in my early thirties.

Bellatrix's avatar

Like @ANef_is_Enuf I remember my father, who served in the Middle East in WW2 having some pretty negative attitudes to anyone from the Arab states. He didn’t dwell on it though but I remember few situations when it came up. I went on to date people from all sorts of different backgrounds and I knew his feelings well enough not to mention who I was dating to my father. I don’t think I would of at that time called my dad a racist though (although regardless of his reasons for holding his views, they were racist) and even now it feels not quite right because he was such a reasonable, logical and decent person. I, again like @ANef_is_Enuf went to a school with a very diverse population and I played with kids from all sorts of backgrounds and didn’t think twice about it.

The first time I really remember being confronted with what racism is about was in college (college is not university in the UK) and had a teacher who made us watch film about conditions in Soweto and about Apartheid. I was horrified that people could be treated in such a way because of the colour of their skin. I just couldn’t comprehend how people could believe that this was okay and go along with it. It really, really affected me. I vowed never to visit South Africa while such things were happening.

Australia I think has largely escaped condemnation because of its racist actions and especially when you realise Apartheid was based on practices carried out against Aboriginal people in Queensland and Western Australia under the protection system. I love my adopted country, but the way we have treated Aboriginal people in the past and the continuing disparity between the way many Indigenous Australians live and their expectations in terms of education/employment/health leaves me so angry and frustrated. I also cannot abide the prevailing attitudes towards refugees.

optimisticpessimist's avatar

This is not really a story about racism, but prejudice. It was not until we moved to Texas when I was nine that I found out most of the locals felt military brats were poor and trouble makers. We had lived in England before that so most of our friends we either British (who thought it was kind of neat we were Americans) or other military kids. This still persists today as my children can easily attest to.

CaptainHarley's avatar

This happened when I was about eleven years old, and I’ll never forget it as long as I live. I was on the bus, and sat down next to an older white guy in one of only three seats left. This guy kept trying to look out the window across the aisle from me, where a young, black male, about 14 or 15 years old was sitting. This old, white guy kept craning his neck as if he couldn’t see out the window on the other side, and finally said, “If that G-d n****r don’t move his head, I gonna go over there and move it FOR him!”

Later I learned that, thanks to Rosa Parks and others like her, they had succeeded in desegragating the buses shortly before this incident happened, in about 1954.

I had been raised in a Christian home, where I was taught that we are all God’s children, regardless of anything, and that I was to respect everyone. So I had never heard this sort of verbal violence before. I looked at this guy, and then at the black kid, got up out of my seat next to the white guy and moved across the aisle to sit next to the black kid.

aprilsimnel's avatar

My first personal experience of racism that I recall was this. I was 7.

incendiary_dan's avatar

A neighborhood kid called my brother a chink. My brother beat the living shit out of him.

CaptainHarley's avatar


I hate stuff like that. I sincerely wish there were some way I could help make up to you for that.

MilkyWay's avatar

My mum is halfcast of English and Indian… she was called many things in the street when we used to go out, my mum and me. I think I was around 3 or 4 then, but I still remember it as if it were yesterday. She never responded though, and kept walking on.

Coloma's avatar

My father was an Architect for the Bureau of Indian affairs and built schools and hospitals throughout the Southwest.

I was often the only caucasion child in predominently Indian and Hispanic schools.

I was highly resented and dealt with plenty of bullying being the blonde. blue eyed, Marcia Brady prototype. lol

I’ve gotten over it but, I was seriously intimidated by the expereince.

Of course, all the boys liked me and all the girls hated me. It really sucked in Jr. High, I ended up being homeschooled because I didn’t fit in, at all.

My best friend in 7th & 8th grade was a Suffolk Sheep named Wallace. He was my constant companion and we roamed the rugged countryside of New Mexico, two outcasts from the flock.

I returned to California and lived with my grandmother during high school, what a relief.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It was when the next-door neighbor hung a large confederate flag on his front porch, and the man across the street marched over and pitched a very fit in the guy’s front yard about it. I hadn’t seen that type of flag before, and asked my parents to explain. It was flabbergasting, even at that age, considering their beloved housekeeper/child sitter was black and they were white.

global_nomad's avatar

When I was in first grade we moved overseas and when I was in fourth grade we moved to the Middle East. I distinctly remember sitting in IT class in fifth grade working on creating a news article about the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound (why we were writing a news story about something that happened ten years prior, I have no idea) when I heard the two boys next to me have an argument over something when one of them called the other one a “Juice.” I thought that was quite the strange comeback, but it seemed to shut the one kid up. I wasn’t until later on that day that I finally realized that the kid had said, “You’re such a Jew,” and not “You’re such a juice.” Duh. I heard lots of stuff like that from a lot of the kids. I remember hearing one kid on my bus talk about how it didn’t matter anything about the person, but that if they were a Jew, he would hate them no matter what. It’s sad to see how such blind hate can transcend generations. That kid didn’t even know why he was “supposed” to hate a group of people, he just knew he did. I didn’t encounter racism of the black/white kind until I attended public middle school in the U.S. in sixth grade. I honestly didn’t even know racism like that still existed in the U.S.. I learned real quick though after I became friends with the only girl who was nice to me—a black girl. It was like I had broken some kind of unspoken rule. I mean, no one ever said anything outright, but you could feel it. I think it was more of a social status thing though.

Also, those kids always asked me stupid racist questions like, “Did you see any terrorists over there?” I always just wanted to smack them upside the head.

Seelix's avatar

I remember in grade four some kids used to call a francophone classmate a frog. I had no idea it was a racist thing, I just thought it was ‘cause he looked like a frog.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@KatetheGreat When I moved to America, racism was even more apparent. Everyone made fun of my accent and to this day, they still assume I’m a Russian whore who will marry anyone for money. Or they assume I’m a Russian prostitute. Lots of ignorant Yankees still live in the Cold War era even if they don’t know that they are. I apologize for them.

@CaptainHarley Good for you!! I’d larvae you more if I was able.

@aprilsimnel Thank heavens you were not Emmitt Tilled.

@incendiary_dan A neighborhood kid called my brother a chink. No disrespect but off your avatar pic I figured your background to be Hispanic, Greek, or Moroccan.

@Coloma I was highly resented and dealt with plenty of bullying being the blonde. blue eyed, Marcia Brady prototype. Certainly goes to show that racism can even be metered out to Caucasians no one is immune.

Of course, all the boys liked me and all the girls hated me. Another reason the girls hated you, you are the abu gator, the white rhino, the forbidden fruit that not all could have but they all wanted. In that school you were ultra unique, different from every other girl there and surely a step (because you were of the “ruling” race).


My earliest recollection happened when I was very young, about 5 or 4-years old. I was sitting on the front yard playing with a couple of toy cars, while my two older brothers were nearby on their bicycles——all of us just minding our own business and having fun outside, when a pick-up truck drove by with a few white men in it. They started making supposedly “Asian” sounds (you know, “ching-chong, ching-chong, hai-yong, wong-chong”... and so forth and laughing their heads off. They also made some kind of racist comment to my brothers, who stood there confounded, naive as they were being only 10 or 11.

I was really young still, but I remember the incident vividly. As a small child, I wondered why big people, “adults”, had behaved in such a vile way towards us. Being the innocent kid I was, I was color-blind, so I didn’t know why these adults, whom I thought were supposed to be mature and civil, acted the way they did, in such a hurtful manner. “We didn’t do anything, so why did they yell at us and mock us?,” I remember thinking to myself.

I was really hurt and affected by the incident, and although it happened many years ago, I still remember it clearly because it “was” so hurtful. At the time, I didn’t know it was a racist thing, but in time I eventually realized what had transpired that day.

Looking back, I am saddened at the actions of these adult middle-aged guys, who would choose to pick on us little kids playing in our front yard, and I can only say it was so cowardly and evil of them to have done so. :(

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

My parents are racists. That’s how I found out.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central My dad’s half Filipino, half Italian. Mom’s mostly French-Canadian and a bit American Indian. We get a lot of interesting guesses.

sliceswiththings's avatar

In fourth grade I was in a soccer carpool with two other girls. We were eating apples in the back seat, and tried to throw the cores out the window at mailboxes. Then we saw a woman jogging, and one “friend” suggested we throw a core at her. After the deed was done, my mom, who was driving, noticed. She stopped the car and made us get out.

The jogger was black, and my mom invited her to read us the riot act. Imagine my surprise when I found out that day about racism, and that the black jogger in question took the apple-throwing to be a racist act. That dwelled with me for a while after.

Coloma's avatar

These sharings are making me cry. :-(
Aaah, the cruelties of the ignorant.

DominicX's avatar

I hadn’t really ever experienced racism in real life. I’ve lived in liberal areas, I don’t know any racists in my family or among my friends, I don’t come across it much (aside from not-so-subtle comments from my housemates. They’re not actually racist though, it’s more a mocking stereotype sort of thing).

So I think the first time I came across it was when I was in elementary school and saw a play about Jackie Robinson and the word “nigger” was used. I and the other kids were all pretty shocked. That was the first time I was ever really exposed to racism and segregation and all that, though I had heard of it a bit before that as well…

I still am not sure if I have witnessed actual racism in person. If I think of an example, I’ll mention it.

majorrich's avatar

my experience was much like MrShinyShoes’ experience. I was 8 when we came to America, and was the first non-anglo in our school. Many children had never seen an Asian child. At that time I was smaller and my english was not very good and that complicated matters significantly. There were a few other Asian families nearby and we spent a good deal of time with them working on getting my language skills up to speed. I was beaten a few times by bigger kids on the bus and remember having my book bag thrown out the window. The kids involved were never punished. It would have been better to have been black I think. While there were no black people in our school either, teachers were preaching how to ‘behave around nigra’s’. All the while turning a blind eye to what was happening to me nearly daily on the playground.

In Okinawa, where I lived before, there were many bi-racial kids such as myself, but the Japanese considered us ‘half human’ and mostly tolerated up, but I never experienced the Vitrol I got when we moved here.

gailcalled's avatar

Similar to @JLeslie: Being Jewish and being old enough to remember the comments, discussions, distress and ultimately horror about the events of WWII, I always was aware of anti-semitism.

And ironically, my paternal grandmother, daughter of two Russian immigrants who fled to pogroms in order to come to the US, used to make disparaging remarks about what she used to call “Schvartzes.” The word translates to “black,” but even when I was 6, I was able to catch the tone and intent. That was one of the reasons I learned Grandmother Yiddish…in order to understand the secret conversation swirling around me.


@Hypocrisy_Central My nephew and niece’s father is German, and his grandfather was a soldier in Nazi Germany, but like a lot of German soldiers in WW2, they fought for the German War Machine because they were forced to, not because of their choice. I think there’s this misconception that all Nazi soldiers were racist, when in fact many of them were not——they were forced to follow and support a racist ideology led by Hitler.

Regarding your “blonde haired German classmate”, it’s funny how genetics are. My little nephew has the blond hair and green eyes of his German father, and my little niece, his younger sister, has dark hair and eyes like her Chinese/Japanese mother. Once my niece got racially teased by one of her schoolmates, and her older brother came to her defense. “Leave my sister alone,” he told the bully. “That’s your sister??”, inquired the bully. “She doesn’t look like you!”, he declared. “Of course not you dummy, she’s a girl!!”, replied my nephew.

My German brother-in-law always likes to relate that story to me and others whenever the issue of racism comes up. lol

Facade's avatar

In the third grade, a boy called me a “fucking nigger” when I beat him at basketball. I had no Idea what those words meant because I hadn’t heard them until then, but I knew that he was trying to hurt my feelings, so I was upset anyway. Looking back, a lot of subtle racism went on at my Christian grade school.

Judi's avatar

My dad was a ” seperate but equal” bigot. He really meant the equal part and was an idealist. My childhood heros were Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver because my dad gave me books about them in grade school.
He’s probably rolling in his grave at the way his children and grand children hsve embraced the equal part but abandoned the separate part. Most of his great grand Children are a beautiful genetic mix.

Cruiser's avatar

I am not really sure what you call it…racism…vigilante justice…

I was 10 yrs old at YMCA summer camp and started noticing items missing…good camper certificate….box stitched bracelets and me and my cabin mates eventually discovered that the only two black bunkmates had their dufflebags stuffed with PG…personal gear from everybody in the cabin. 10 of us corralled the 2 offenders and pummeled them for what seemed like eternity made all the longer by the counselor that walked in on the session and turned a blind eye and walked out

It was a new experience for me that I vowed never to repeat. I felt reprieved and awful at the same time realizing they apparently needed by bracelet and “Good Camper cert” more than I did.

seazen_'s avatar

I’m still colour-blind.

I am not naive – and I know it exists – but I dont really notice it. I notice people’s ignorance and stupidity. I don’t think people really hate others because of this or that – they are simply not intelligent enough to realize we are all just fucking little dustballs – pigments and dust. Life’s a beach and then you die. Grains of sand. Love one another. Love your children. Live without colour live without religion too and live without prejudice. Love. Live. Peace.

seazen_'s avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES I guess they weren’t up for this award then, eh?


@seazen_ Never heard of him. Thanks for sharing. Will have to show my brother-in-law. lol ;)

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES I think there’s this misconception that all Nazi soldiers were racist, when in fact many of them were not——they were forced to follow and support a racist ideology led by Hitler. Off my own investigation of WWII I figured that out and the Sound of Music that not all were aboard with Hitler, he had at least 3 assassination attempts on him. And many of his scientist dragged their feet on the A-bomb because they did not want him to have it.

For some time it was the only logical theory I could come up with since I know his parents were not borne here so I knew it wasn’t Southern ideology.

@Cruiser 10 of us corralled the 2 offenders and pummeled them for what seemed like eternity made all the longer by the counselor that walked in on the session and turned a blind eye and walked out If they were stealing maybe a good butt kicking would have broke them of the habit later but I am sure if it were today the camp would have been saddled with a major law suite, no matter if the kid’s parents had money the smell of that blood in the water would have had some attorney seeing 7 digits.

ucme's avatar

I’d have been about 7/8yrs old. A couple moved in next door to us, theirs was an interracial marriage, he was black, she being white. They got a lot of stick from the neanderthals in the neighbourhood. I became mates with their son, couldn’t see what the fuss was about, but then i’m civilised see.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@CaptainHarley – Thanks. It was a terrifying situation, but then I realized soon after that certain snide remarks from my aunt about my hair and skin tone and the “zebra” and “high-yellow” comments from the older black kids on my block were the the other side of the same coin.

Cruiser's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central Plus there would be a cell phone video posted on Youtube and all sorts of media coverage over the incident! ;)

SABOTEUR's avatar

I experienced a minor incident in the 6th grade when my family moved across town to a predominantly white neighborhood. I was one of 3 black kids in my 6th grade class.

I forget what provoked the incident but one of the popular white boys called me a nigger, which placed me in quite a predicament. I don’t recall being offended as much as I recall the awareness that allowing the insult to go unchecked would mean “open season” for additional taunts by him and other students. To makes matters worse I was not (and have never been) a fighter. And I wasn’t about to tell a teacher.

So after worrying through my lunch, I decided what to do. I didn’t want anyone to say I started a fight…

…so I calmly walked over to the kid and kicked him. We fought, exchanged a few words (me being mindful to watch what I said, being woefully outnumbered) and it was over.

Got a lot of respect after that. Seems no one had ever challenged this kid. I was the first! We actually became good friends afterward.

Coloma's avatar


Most excellent! ;-)

I too finally confronted a bullying hispanic girl on my school bus after months of her blackmailing me for money and candy in 7th grade. One day I finally had enough and little old pacifist me pushed her off the school bus into a snowdrift. lol

We never became friends but, she did respect me after that.

Judi's avatar

I’ve told this story on fluther before, but since, at 50, it is still one of the defining moments of my life, I’ll tell it again.
I went to a very white elementary school. There were no minorities at all. One day a new student who was black came to our class. I must have been in first or second grade. No one really talked to him, or even about him all morning.
Our custom at lunch was to have boys on one side of the table and girls on the other. Each class had a table and there were a few overflow tables for the classes that didn’t fit on one table.
The little boy was one of the first to sit down. As I waited at the lunch line, I noticed that the cafeteria was filling up but no one sat on the same side of the table as him. My heart was aching. This full cafeteria except for one side of one table.
When I got through the line I had a decision to make. I chose to break all the rules. Not only did I sit on the boys side of the table, but I sat next to the outcast little black boy.
We didn’t say a word through the entire meal. We just sat there, ate our lunch, both of us scared, knowing we were being stared at and ridiculed, but at least neither of us were alone.

JLeslie's avatar

@judi do you think that would have happened to any new kid sitting on the wrong side?

Judi's avatar

No way!!! This was SOOOO different. He was on the right side of the table. I sat on the “Boys side.”

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, I see. I had misunderstood about the table. Poor kid, how awful. You were so brave. I think you have always had your own mind, even as a small child. :).

Coloma's avatar


Awww…what a brave thing for your little girl self to do! Sometimes the biggest statement we can make is through our silent actions. ;-)

Judi's avatar

@Coloma; It still makes me emotional to think of it. I can still feel the fear in my belly, and I still see it as one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.

JLeslie's avatar

@judi Was the boy later accepted in your class?

Judi's avatar

@JLeslie, No. He didn’t stay long at the school. I don’t even remember his name or if he was in my class or another class in the same grade.

Coloma's avatar


I hear ya, yep, I think my experiences lent themselves to my strength in mediation and certainly honed my compassionate side.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@Judi Larvae that!! To bad I have but one to give you.

Judi's avatar

I think even the teachers were scared of him. I often wonder what tehy thought seeing the two of us sitting there.

JLeslie's avatar

@Judi a girlfriend of mine tells a story of waiting with her friend for the black kids to arrive at their school. It was during the time of desegregation, and everyone was talking about the blacks (they probably used colored or niggers, not sure) being bused to their school. She says she remembers watching out the window as they walked up towards the school, and she turned to her friends next to her and said, “oh, they are just children too.”

Judi's avatar

@JLeslie ; LOVE that!

Coloma's avatar


From the mouths of babes…

rooeytoo's avatar

Reading all these reminded me of a similar situation with a different ending. I think it would have been 3rd grade a kid from Trinidad started in our school mid semester. He had darkish skin and curly hair, he must have had mixed heritage. Anyhow, with his exotic looks and adorable accent he became an instant celebrity. Boys and girls wanted to be his friend and I bet he ate dinner at a different home for weeks. And I lived in an all white small town. But this was a catholic school in a town of WASPs of germanic descent, perhaps that had something to do with it. We had all been teased with the mackerel snapper, etc. taunts. So maybe we didn’t want to make him feel the way we did when we were bullied.

Is it politically correct to say mackerel snapper anymore? All seems silly now but wars are fought (and twin towers destroyed) for such religious slurs these days.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@rooeytoo Is it politically correct to say mackerel snapper anymore? Never heard the term but I am sure it might be to some the same as other terms I am sure many have not heard of like:

White paddy
Tar baby
Border Brother and we ain’t talking North.
Hat dancer

and many much worse. But I guess in a sorrid twist of irony one’s race can make them the talk of the town and the darling of everyone.

Jellie's avatar

@Judi thats something to be proud of. The fact that you had such compassion at that age.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Here’s another story, just because. Jr. High was my first experience with public school, one with mostly anglo kids and for my first few days it seemed I was the only non-anglo around. One morning an asian girl came into our homeroom and I hoped she would sit by me which she did and from then on, we’ve remained friends some 30+ years. A few weeks later a black girl came into our homeroom and stood for second, looking us all over. My asian friend and I whispered to each other that the black girl would be our friend and we beckoned her to sit with us. The 3 of us girls kind of courted any other non-anglo kids from there and made our own group, not based on learning each other’s interests but because we all felt out of place but also “in place” with each other.
My stepdad used to tease and call us The Suburbanite United Nations

Judi's avatar

@Neizvestnaya; That’s so neat. I wonder if you would have accepted me being white, but a ragg-a-muffin outcast?

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@Judi: Funny you ask because we did have a “white girl” in our group. The other girls were mean to her because she was a little overweight, wasn’t stylish, had a single mom they considered poor even though we were all pretty much middle income people.

We were such a tight knit group through Jr. High and Senior High that college turned out to be an eye opening experience that seemed like most other non anglos didn’t mix and instead went off into big separate groups. My parents said it’s because we’d never been exposed to big groups of one race or another and to expect our friends to move on temporarily. It did happen but most of us girls have remained friends.


@Hypocrisy_Central Maybe the kid was a little closeted brown-shirt Nazi and his Dad a member of the Gestapo! Who knows? Lol. ;)

If you looked at my nephew, you’d be amazed at how different he looks from his Mom. He is a mirror image of his Dad——I don’t know what happened there, but his blonde looks and greyish green eyes are pretty Germanic to me. I always thought dark hair and eyes were a dominant trait, but I guess not. As for his little sister, she’s a spittin’ image of her Mom.

mattbrowne's avatar

I was 17 and it happened in the Netherlands in 1980. At the time some Dutch parents still taught their kids to hate Germans.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

My grandmother also gave me a lecture one year when I was about 7–8 to never let my parents adopt a Vietnamese child because the child would grow up and kill the rest of the family in our sleep.

This was the 70’s and I knew nothing about the Vietnam war.

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