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June 11th, 2006


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delux_vivens
01:23 pm - black churches and voyeurism.
confabbing with ladyjax about people who think black churches and the people in them exist to provide them with visceral sensation and entertainment, and came across this article, which sums it up-- altho to be honest most of the people that i talk to about this are far less nice that the people quoted in the article, which is probably why they are quoted in the article.

Drawn to Gospel, if Not Gospels, Foreigners Arrive by Busload

By FRANK BRUNI
Published: November 24, 1996

Almost 200 white tourists, most of them Europeans, had been standing outside the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem for 45 minutes on a recent Sunday morning when one of the three ushers in charge of crowd control broke the bad news.

Picking a point about three-quarters down the line, the usher, Roger Feggins, politely informed the tourists beyond it that there would not be enough seats for them at the 11 A.M. service, and that they would have to go around the corner to a different black church.

''They can take you there,'' Mr. Feggins said.

But a huddle of four Swedish tourists refused to budge.

''I'm sorry,'' Mr. Feggins said.

No movement.

''I'm not playing games,'' Mr. Feggins said.

Nothing.

Finally, one of his adversaries piped up. ''Can't we stand?'' asked Erik Blennberger, his face betraying the panic of a theatergoer who had been intent on ''Rent'' but was being asked to settle for ''Cats.''

''You're being outrageous,'' Mr. Feggins said. ''You're not respecting me. This is a church.''

But to Mr. Blennberger, it was something more and something less: a highlighted entry in his Swedish guidebook, a must-see for any Swede doing the Big Apple. It was Abyssinian or bust. So two minutes into the standoff, Mr. Feggins threw up his white-gloved hands and walked away, letting the Swedes enter. ''I try not to bicker,'' he muttered, ''but this is getting too big.''



A decade-long influx of foreign tourists visiting Harlem churches has swelled considerably over the last year, to the point where Harlem on a Sunday morning has been transformed into something of an ecclesiastical theme park. Charter buses roll in by the dozens, lining the avenues. Tourists spill out by the thousands, pointing cameras at churchgoers like paparazzi swirling around celebrities at a movie premiere.

Inside many of the churches, scores of white people in jeans and sweat shirts sit in second-story balconies, separated from the black churchgoers in finely pressed suits and dresses on the main floor. At some churches, there are more tourists than congregants.

Most tourists say they come for cultural enrichment, and most congregants say they are honored by the interest that outsiders are taking in their houses, and styles, of worship.

But as the spiritual carnival grows more hectic, the more unsettling aspects of it come into bolder relief. ''People don't just go there for the religion,'' said Patricia J. Williams, a black professor of law at Columbia University who has published many essays on race relations. ''They go for a show; there's this sense of whites being on safari. All that's missing is the hats.''

In this country, there is a long history of white fascination with black worship, particularly in the South, Professor Williams said, recalling a Civil War-era picture she once saw of white people laying out picnics on a riverbank so they could watch black people baptize each other in the rushing waters below. All around the world, she added, religious rituals are often seen by tourists as one of the most accessible and theatrical windows into a different culture.

But still, she said, the scene around Harlem churches, which she visits sporadically, disturbs her, smacking of what she describes as a kind of racial ''voyeurism'' that would never happen in reverse: with large groups of casually attired black visitors, say, dropping in on an Upper West Side synagogue on a Friday night.

That unease is echoed by some congregants and even a pastor or two, although they seem uncomfortable discussing the phenomenon of so many tourists in their midst.

''When I try to share my hymnal with a tourist, they wave it away,'' said a woman in her 70's who refused to give her name, as she walked toward the entrance of Abyssinian Baptist, at 132 West 138th Street. ''To them, it's just a show. I dislike all of this influx. I wonder what's behind it.''

One possible answer to her question came from Marcus Hardt, a German tourist standing in the line a few dozen yards away. ''We don't have many black people in Germany,'' Mr. Hardt said.

Most pastors and congregants say they are inclined to a more generous interpretation of tourists' attention. They say that Christian churches, by their very mission, are havens of fellowship and good will that must open their doors wide to guests and not attribute impure motives to them.

They say they are proud for the world to see the positive images of black community, responsibility and righteousness that the churches of Harlem project.

In addition, there is an evangelical bent to many of these conservative Christian congregations and an accordant feeling that even if the tourists are coming for the music, maybe they will pick up the spirit along the way.

''Maybe you can do or say something that will bring them closer to God,'' said Dr. Alvin T. Durant, the pastor of Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on West 137th Street, the congregation that accepts the overflow from Abyssinian. ''That's what my hope is.''

But the churches' hospitality is not without more immediate rewards. In a sort of implicit contract, many tour operators donate between $3 and $5 per tourist to some of the churches that welcome visitors by the busload; that can easily mean tens of thousands of dollars in extra revenue each year for some congregations.

Pastors of congregations that receive stray tourists, as opposed to organized groups, make their appeals at collection time in such a way that no tourist present could think himself or herself exempt from contributing a dollar or two.

Officials at some congregations acknowledge the seductiveness of this income. ''Our regular parishioners have complained that the tourists are taking up all the available seats,'' said Deacon Zeb Jamison of Mount Moriah Baptist Church on Fifth Avenue near West 126th Street. ''But I think they've given in because it's such a big help financially.''

The keen interest that foreign tourists are showing in these churches reflects both a growing attraction to Harlem in general and more aggressive efforts by Harlem residents and tour operators to promote the area.

It is also fueled by the increasing recognition and popularity of gospel music in foreign countries.

''It is wonderful music, and the people are very happy,'' said Giuliana Mascarenhas, a Brazilian tourist, of what could be heard and seen in a Harlem church. Then, speaking of her own country, she added, ''We are Catholic, and our services are more traditional, quieter. This is very modern.''

She and the hundreds of other Brazilian tourists at Mount Moriah last Sunday, for example, were drawn there in large part to see its 70-member choir, which has made five concert tours in Brazil, most recently last month, and has released a compact disk there.

But Mount Moriah is just one of more than two dozen churches in Harlem that receive between 50 and 400 tourists every Sunday. That same morning, roughly 100 tourists filed into the balcony of Kelly Temple Church of God in Christ on East 130th Street.

About 40 of them were Dutch, Danish, English and Australian visitors on a half-day, $32 tour run by a group called Harlem Spirituals, and their guide had issued special instructions before they entered.

Acknowledging that these tourists were about to witness a boisterous musical form of worship infinitely more emotional than the standard church service back home, the guide, Peggy Taylor, said, ''You can sing, clap your hands, stomp your feet and go into a trance.'' Ms. Taylor added that the bus driver ''has smelling salts in case you go into a trance.''

A trance was not the state in which a busload of about 40 Japanese tourists found themselves as they watched the service at First Corinthian Baptist Church on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard near West 116th Street. A slumber was more like it. Flanked by two large German tour groups in the balcony, many of the Japanese tourists struggled to stave off sleep; at least a half-dozen succumbed to it.

But then the first of three gospel performances began, and they snapped to attention. The Germans, also relatively listless until this point, began whispering to one another, laughing and tapping their feet. A few stood to get a better view. One clicked on his video camera. None seemed to mind that the distorting effect of the church's crude acoustical system made the Aretha Franklin-style vocalist sound more like Stevie Nicks.

But the fascination felt by tourists grates on some of its objects, who complain about the disruption to their worship service and, at some churches, the displacement of regular congregants from their seats. As a result, more and more churches in Harlem are setting up guidelines and rules, sometimes to little or no avail.

Congregants at Abyssinian said that about two years ago, the church decided not to accept tour buses anymore. No matter: Almost every Sunday, the church, one of the most famous in the area, still gets scores of visitors who make their way by car or public transportation. Rather than turn them away, church officials herd them into a line on the sidewalk until the service is several minutes under way and even the stragglers in the congregation have been seated.

At Canaan Baptist Church on West 116th Street, ''They stand in our inner lobby, behind a rope, right up until starting time,'' said Lorraine Springsteen, the executive secretary of the congregation. Only then are they permitted to look for seats.

The pastors at almost all of the churches, bowing to complaints from congregants, have officially banned photography inside the church for all or most of the worship service, although it has not entirely stopped the clicking and flashing.

Some churches have also begun to require that tour groups commit to staying through the 90-minute or two-hour duration of the service, rather than bolting en masse after the first few joyous spirituals by the gospel choir. And many churches now insist that tourists phone ahead.

''How many in your group?'' asked a member of Mount Moriah when a reporter, not immediately identifying himself, called merely to confirm the starting time of the main Sunday service. ''Would you like to make a reservation?''

Even so, there are congregants left uneasy by the incursion of a public spectacle into moments of prayer, by the mingling of the profane with the sacred.

''I have mixed feelings,'' said Roland Davie, a congregant at Kelly Temple who has so much respect for his house of worship that he crossed the street last Sunday to smoke a cigarette, not wanting to light up directly in front of the church.

''It's nice,'' Mr. Davie said of the interest of tourists, ''but you feel a little bit like an experiment. People are watching you in your own environment, critiquing you, observing you. They're not there to be a part of it.

''It's a little overwhelming,'' he added. ''You feel a little bit like a person being operated on while the doctors are around looking.''

xposted to debunkingwhite. heh.
Current Mood: irateirate

(36 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:yeloson
Date:June 11th, 2006 09:02 pm (UTC)
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I'm getting so cynical at this point, that I'm like, "Well, hey, at LEAST they're not firebombing the church!"...

Sigh.

The white man giveth Jesus, and the white man taketh away...
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From:dyvinesweetness
Date:June 11th, 2006 09:03 pm (UTC)
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I cannot BEGIN to express my gratitude to you for posting this article. I live almost inches away from Abyssinian (went there for summer camp 3 years) and goodness the HERDS of white folks that can be seen trampling through my neighborhood on Any Given Sunday is disturbing (to say the VERY least).

''They go for a show; there's this sense of whites being on safari. All that's missing is the hats.''

This is so real. The double decker tour buses that travel through Manhattan (every day, not just Sunday) always made me feel like a zoo animal. As a very young child with limited conceptual knowledge of race I felt violated by their presence (and of course still do).
From:delux_vivens
Date:June 11th, 2006 09:13 pm (UTC)
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I cannot BEGIN to express my gratitude to you for posting this article.

cash in small bills will do... lol no seriously, its just i was losing my mind over this myself after coming back from a church service thronged with people who were creaming their pants at the exotic entertainment. why these folks cant just go to a kirk franklin concert i dont understand.

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From:holzman
Date:June 11th, 2006 11:12 pm (UTC)
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My experiences with Christian religious services can be counted on a single hand with fingers left over, but those are free to attend, right? Unlike concerts. That's probably got something to do with it. Aside from the whole tourist aspect of this, where going to The Place and seeing The Thing are part of what one brags about when one goes home.

From:delux_vivens
Date:June 12th, 2006 12:45 am (UTC)
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Unlike concerts. That's probably got something to do with it.

plenty of these people are paying over of $50 per person to go to these churches on "harlem tours," so the cost has very little to do with it, imho.
From:chreebomb
Date:June 12th, 2006 06:25 pm (UTC)
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*eyebrow through the roof*

ok, that's just the icing on the damn cake.
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From:dorktastic
Date:June 11th, 2006 09:12 pm (UTC)
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Ugh. Reading this made me feel sick to my stomach. What's wrong with people?
From:comeoneileen
Date:June 11th, 2006 09:18 pm (UTC)
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Ok, so I know the roots of white privilege go deep and that sense of entitlement is constantly being reinforced and everything, but SERIOUSLY PEOPLE WHAT THE FUCK. CHURCH SERVICES =/= A FUCKING CABARET. Is that really so difficult to figure out, even with all the travel packages claiming otherwise?

From:delux_vivens
Date:June 11th, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC)
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Is that really so difficult to figure out,

apparently. what we find most interseting about this is that these folks could get plenty of the same "boisterous musical form of worship infinitely more emotional than the standard church service back home" at white evangelical and baptist churches, but they dont go to those by the busload. i wonder why?
[User Picture]
From:i_dreamed_i_was
Date:June 12th, 2006 03:00 am (UTC)

Bleh.

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White pentecostals are embarrassing, dontcha know. We make the Lutherans embarrassed to be white somehow. Probably because, ironically, we are acting in a "black" way. (Where else did we get that nifty call-and-response stuff from?) And black = inferior, as we all know. Except that it's cool to just, you know, observe "the blacks" in their natural habitat. Or something.

As long as none of teh blackitude rubbed off on any of us. Or something.

If someone figures it out, please explain it to me. Classism or assumed-class-ism comes into it somewhere, I'm pretty sure.
From:comeoneileen
Date:June 12th, 2006 03:05 am (UTC)

Re: Bleh.

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ha, we both said "natural habitat" at the same time.

heh.
From:delux_vivens
Date:June 12th, 2006 03:35 am (UTC)

Re: Bleh.

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As long as none of teh blackitude rubbed off on any of us. Or something.

it might be ok if some of teh blackitude just rubbed on them, though.
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From:i_dreamed_i_was
Date:June 12th, 2006 04:09 am (UTC)

Uh huh.

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I have to admit, this time, I'm stumped.

Maybe white Pentecostals and such are "less authentic." And, you know, not as fun to dehumanize. They can't observe us with as much "objectivity," 'cause we're obviously, you know, people. That certainly puts a damper on the safari theme. *eyeroll*
From:comeoneileen
Date:June 12th, 2006 03:04 am (UTC)
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Well, they don't have many black people in Germany, so it's a Unique American Experience to observe them in their natural habitat. Plus, a bunch of white people getting worked up over Jesus just isn't going to be the same. They're insufficiently oppressed and depressingly unexotic. And part of the thrill of going on a Harlem Gospel Tour is feeling like you're some kind of bridge to racial harmony without actually having to do anything but groove to the music, like that white kid in Perfect Harmony or something.

Or that's how it looks to my cynical eye, anyway. I'm sure they're really just there to. . . I don't know, give their heart to Jesus, or. . . actually, I can't think of a single reason for going on one of these tours that doesn't ooze entitlement like pus.

Sorry-- just ranting because it's better for my teeth than the "uncontrollable vomiting" alternative.
From:croupier
Date:June 11th, 2006 09:45 pm (UTC)
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I just finished reading The Wine of Astonishment, and this--

"We are Catholic, and our services are more traditional, quieter. This is very modern."

--an inversion of Black Baptists in Trinidad being forced to worship as Catholics, it's just . . . no matter what position Black people are in, white people are always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always trying to take it.
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From:homasse
Date:June 11th, 2006 10:33 pm (UTC)
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This surprises me not at all.

I live in Japan, and somehow, it got out that I can sing. suddenly, I had someone--a white guy--call me out of the blue and say he was organizing a "gospel wedding" service, and wanted to know if I would be available to sing for it. He said "I got do it, but, you know, a white guy singing gospel? People won't buy it, and it's all about the image..." and left the rest unsaid but VERY clearly there--that I, being Black and American, would seem "authentic." I told the guy that a) I classically trained in *opera* and b) I didn't actually *know* any gospel songs because the churches I went to as a kid were, well, majority White.

"Oh, that doesn't matter. They just want 'the look'."

Needless to say, this didn't sit well with me, and I'm not going to do it.

And I don't even want to get into how many times I've had people over here want me to just suddenly start singing gospel for them. And "I don't KNOW any!" doesn't compute, because I'm Black and American, so *of course* I know gospel and want to sing for them OMG RIGHT NOW!

Uh, NO.
From:delux_vivens
Date:June 12th, 2006 03:38 am (UTC)
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"Oh, that doesn't matter. They just want 'the look'."

Needless to say, this didn't sit well with me, and I'm not going to do it.


go you for sticking with your guns (why am i reminded of tosca?). it kills me, absolutely kills me, how many people think that we are all programmed to channel aretha's gospel album at the flip of a switch.
From:chreebomb
Date:June 12th, 2006 06:28 pm (UTC)
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*smh*

lord.
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From:belladona
Date:June 11th, 2006 11:13 pm (UTC)
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i think i just threw up in my mouth a little
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From:shadowfae
Date:June 11th, 2006 11:22 pm (UTC)
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Thank you so much for this.

*memories*
From:delux_vivens
Date:June 12th, 2006 03:43 am (UTC)
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no prob. hey do you remember the painting, of black people doing a riverside baptism while a group of white people watch?
(Deleted comment)
From:delux_vivens
Date:June 12th, 2006 12:55 am (UTC)
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its the entitlement that really stands out, isnt it.
[User Picture]
From:i_dreamed_i_was
Date:June 12th, 2006 03:02 am (UTC)

Right.

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And geez, it's so built in to the mentality and the lack of awareness that some of us mistakenly call Powwow regalia "costumes." *facepalm*
From:chreebomb
Date:June 12th, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)
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And notice how those Swedes refused to take "NO" for an answer? That's because the are entitled to watch/know, dammit! How dare you say no!

that's what kills me. oh, along with the fact that they paid for a ticket to be there. oh, and the rest of it too.

*gag*
From:sisterselu
Date:June 12th, 2006 11:41 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps, they got tired of doing sweat lodges in the mother country?

Entitlement, yeppers.

Fucking gross, yepppers.
From:chreebomb
Date:June 12th, 2006 06:31 pm (UTC)

is that crickets chirping i hear?

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i see the DBWers are behaving themselves with this one.
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From:djeannot
Date:June 13th, 2006 02:06 am (UTC)
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Even so, there are congregants left uneasy by the incursion of a public spectacle into moments of prayer, by the mingling of the profane with the sacred.

Thanks so much for posting this. It makes me want to kill, but hey...so much about disrespectful, racist, *mostly* white folk makes me want to kill...

As you may already know, this kind of behavior is pretty rampant in Haiti, where the white tourists go to Vodou ceremonies for the *ahem* entertainment. My relative, the infamous Max Beauvoir of "The Serpent and the Rainbow" was (and is still is) mercenary enough to humor these yahoos and gives them a good show. Given the destitution of the country, the indigenous folk seldom think of refusing. Grandma and some relatives used to go to these 'front' ceremonies just to watch white folk make FOOLS of themselves. They were unware that THEY were the spectacle. The real ceremonies were strictly for the congregants and by invitation only....

I oughta post about this because there's more to the story.
From:delux_vivens
Date:June 13th, 2006 05:38 am (UTC)
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. Grandma and some relatives used to go to these 'front' ceremonies just to watch white folk make FOOLS of themselves. They were unware that THEY were the spectacle. The real ceremonies were strictly for the congregants and by invitation only....

note to djeannot- grandma was a big meanie.

i wish you really would post more about this.
[User Picture]
From:djeannot
Date:June 18th, 2006 05:00 am (UTC)

Grandma didn't take no guff

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Grandma could be a meanie...but of course she had plenty of inspiration from rotten humans. She'd said to me, "Il faut faire l'etre humain peur souvent," because that's the only way they'll respect you--or just plain stay out of your way.

I'd like to post more about this. It's just the time constraints that are a problem. Anyway, what aspects would you suggest?
From:delux_vivens
Date:June 19th, 2006 02:31 am (UTC)

Re: Grandma didn't take no guff

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lol,whatever you feel like sharing.
From:ebonbird
Date:June 18th, 2006 12:17 am (UTC)
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As you may already know, this kind of behavior is pretty rampant in Haiti, where the white tourists go to Vodou ceremonies for the *ahem* entertainment.

Right. People gotta eat and white folks have been entertaining themselves in Haiti for about as long as...hmmm. How long has it been?
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From:djeannot
Date:June 18th, 2006 05:02 am (UTC)
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How long has it been?

Oh probably since they started populating the island with slaves...and it continues.

But they have to be careful not to mock the wrong folk.
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From:djeannot
Date:June 13th, 2006 02:08 am (UTC)
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Furthermore, it'd be hilarious for my folk to witness these stupid white folk 'catching' the spirit and LITERALLY being made fools of by the loa. PRICELESS.

And, oh yeah, *memories*

Thanks again cheri :)
From:ebonbird
Date:June 18th, 2006 02:58 am (UTC)
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Now see, if pictures of *that* were being sold like post-cards? Yeah. That would be gold.
[User Picture]
From:djeannot
Date:July 1st, 2006 11:11 pm (UTC)
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It would definitely bring in some extra cash! LOL

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