Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog



photo by Alex Lear



snapshot: dawn in dar es salaam


our intimacy is as subtle as the mottled shade of shell colors

on a warm basket of cayenne scented boiled crabs

or, more likely, the faint hint of spearmint tea

silently seeping while your attention is turned

to spreading the beige soft of cashew butter across

the crisp of one slice of toasted sourdough

which innocently rests near the dark

of seeded unsugared strawberry jam freshly smeared

atop the face of the bread’s twin — quiet contentment

is morning within our colorful kitchen where we are

as gaily nude as the golden gleam of early light

streaming through our window diagonally impressing

a translucent tattoo onto both the half sphere of your breast

& the upraised arm of my hand reaching to caress

—kalamu ya salaam


Music: “Reflections” by Thelonious Monk

Kalamu ya Salaam — vocals

Stephan Richter — clarinet

Frank Bruckner — guitar

Recorded: June 14, 1998 —”ETA Theatre” Munich, Germany





May 14, 2015




40 Acres and a Mule

Would Be at Least

$6.4 Trillion Today

—What the U.S. Really

Owes Black America

Slavery made America wealthy,
and racist policies since have blocked
African American wealth-building.
Can we calculate the economic damage?



Wealth Stolen From African-Americans Graphic (Web)





1.5 million pounds in 1790 and 2.25 billion pounds in 1859, based on Empire of Cotton, by Sven Beckert (2014) pgs. 104, 106

77% based on: Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power, by Gene Dattel (2009)

Joshua Rothman, email correspondence, 2015

48.3% in 1860 according to Gavin Wright, Slavery and American Economic Development (LSU Press, 2006, paperback 2013) [personal communication]


The Politics of Despair: Power and Resistance in the Tobacco Wars. Tracy Campbell, 2015

7% based on: Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, Vol. 4. 1979.


70-80%, according to:


Dime based on:

$59 trillion:

$15 trillion: National Legal and Policy Center,

$25 trillion:

Martin Luther King:



on May 19, 2017



The Black Power Politics

of Malcolm X


By Hakeem Muhammad


Throughout his life, Malcolm X’s political and theological views constantly evolved.  However,  several core elements never changed. One was his recognition of white supremacy as a global political system that had to be vehemently opposed.  Malcolm explained, “The economy, the politics, the civil life of America is controlled by the white man.”  Political scientist Charles Mills advances this analysis; the United States is often falsely conceived of as a raceless liberal democracy instead of what it actually is: a white supremacist state.


Malcolm X, in his autobiography, explains that this political arrangement had Black people confined to ghettos, living for mere survival, and unable to aspire to higher ambitions in life. Within these ghettos, Blacks were subjected to unbearable living conditions.   He lamented that many of his childhood friends had the potential to be great mathematicians or scientists but were instead victims of the white man’s world because they were born Black.

Malcolm X recognized how whites dominated People of Color politically, socially, economically, militarily and judicially. Consequently, there was no American dream,  only an American nightmare. A nightmare that resulted in Black people trapped in a never-ending sequence of poverty, inferior education and living conditions, leading to an early death or  prison.

The Power of Islamic Theology in America’s Ghettos: Resisting White Supremacy

Malcolm X characterized Black people as politically dead footballs thrown in a game played between conservatives and liberals. White liberals mastered the science of being an ally; i.e., posing as the friend of Black people and promising token gestures to win their allegiance whereas White conservatives were overt in their disdain of  Black people.


In the tradition of Black liberation theology, Malcolm X interpreted scripture and utilized the eschatological elements of theology, those dealing with divine judgment, to combat white supremacy. Malcolm X taught that,”It is only a matter of time before White America too will be utterly destroyed by her own sins, and all traces of her former glory will be removed from this planet forever.” In fact, his emphasis on piety among Black people was profoundly political: by ceasing immoral activities such as drug usage that were introduced during slavery and systematically inculcated by white slave masters, Blacks would come closer to God, and God would aid Black people in their struggle against white supremacy.

For Malcolm X, the struggle for Black liberation depended on God and not on white liberal “do-gooders.”  Specifically, he believed that Islam would enable  Black people who had been “robbed of a knowledge of self” to avoid the destructive lifestyles that white supremacy normalized in Black communities to keep Blacks in the “prison or early death cycle,” drug usage, fornication, adultery, profanity usage, drunkenness, stealing, cheating, and gambling.

Islam’s ability to raise Blacks from the mud to avoid the prison or death trap of an anti-Black society was disdained by the white dominant class. In his speech,“God’s Judgment of White America,” Malcolm X noted:

Why is the American white man so set against the twenty-two million “Negroes” learning about the religion of Islam? Islam is the religion that elevates the morals of the people who want to do right.

Malcolm X recognized that anti-Islamic sentiments were a manifestation of white supremacy. Even when he parted ways from the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X maintained an Islamic commitment to empowering the Black community. He established the Muslim Mosque Incorporated, which was dedicated to promoting Islam as the cure to social problems in the Black community.


Malcolm X: The Negro Preacher to the Negro Imam


Malcolm X developed a very sophisticated critique of “The Negro Preacher” who worked to pacify Black people against the struggle to end white supremacy. Such a preacher treated the Bible as a dead letter scripture which occurs when the rich stories and prophecies found within holy books are  treated only as history and the power of theology is not being actualized upon to initiate a contemporary critique of anti-Blackness. In protest to dead letter scripture,  Malcolm X  criticized how Christian pastors would teach about Pharaoh in Egypt, but would not teach about modern-day Pharaohs and what civilization represented modern-day Egypt. The Negro Preachers, aligned with liberal democratic institutions, would never be sufficient to solve the race problem. According to Malcolm, since these Negro Preachers were educated in seminary schools operated by  white slave masters or his descendants, they could only teach a doctrine of white supremacy. In contemporary times, Malcolm X’s analysis of the “Negro preacher” can be applied to the “Negro Imam.”

Unlike Malcolm X, the Negro Imam is silent on white supremacy as a global political system. Instead of being in urban centers answering theological questions of Black folks, the Negro Imam works in Muslim communities where he is subjected to continued racism. The Negro Imam soon understands that no matter how much Quran, Hadith, Sirah or Fiqh he knows, Muslim immigrants will still see him as a ”nigg–.” Nonetheless, the Negro Imam is content with merely working within Muslim immigrant-built institutions instead of actively working to create independent Black Muslim institutions for Black power politics.

If the ‘Negro Imam’ does in fact work in a masjid in the Black community, the masjid mainly consists of only ‘prayer rug activity’ with minimal commitment to uplifting the Black community. In fact, the Qu’ranic Studies program of the Negro Imam’s masjid merely seeks to examine the roots of various Arabic words yet has no Qu’ranic based agenda being actively developed and carried out to transform the Black community in the image of the Qu’ran.

The Negro Imam is proud of his Islamic education that is a product of either Muslim immigrant-built seminary schools or overseas Islamic institutions. He can wax poetically about Al Ghazali’s cosmological argument, Ibn Tammiya’s argument against the Greek logicians, and other complex aspects of theology. But he fails to take the classical scholarship of  Islam and make it relevant to the Black struggle today.  He also fails to produce Islamic content for oppressed Black communities—which is the unfinished theological project of Malcolm X. Instead, the Negro Imam gives dead sermons that are irrelevant to the struggle of Black people.


The Negro Imam is not in the ‘hood promoting the Sunnah and Islamic doctrines as the cure to social ills in the Black community in the tradition of Malcolm. In fact, the apathy of the Negro Imam to evoke theology that counters anti-Blackness and establish Black Muslim institutions that empower marginalized Black communities in America is the reason Islam is no longer at the center of the Black struggle in America as it once was during the days of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X.

In a discussion with Imam Amin Nathari, he told me, the Negro Imam is, “a mindset even more so than it is any one individual. But of course there are some who embody this mindset and display these traits more than others!”


Black Muslims for Black Power Politics!

Today, what the media considers to be the “mainstream Muslim community” in America is primarily South Asian- and Arab-controlled Muslim institutions. These organizations, who set the narrative for what is portrayed as Islam in America, often align themselves with liberal Democrats in contradiction to the Black power politics of Malcolm X and continuously marginalize strong Black Muslim voices.

These institutions oppose Islamophobia by focusing on how patriotic American Muslims are when Malcolm X in his famous “Bullet or the Ballot” speech stated, “No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of Americanism.” These institutions oppose the travel ban by reverting to the narrative that  Muslim Immigrants deserve the “American dream;” an American dream that was sustained by Black suffering. They see no contradiction between honoring Muhammad Ali and Muslim Americans who fought in imperial wars and subsequently became co-opted by the Democratic Party.


These Immigrant Muslim organizations have public relation efforts largely designed to assuage white American fears about Islam. The “Negro Imam” affiliated with such organization will spend an entire career being a good “moderate Muslim” acquiescing to the white supremacist notion of collective guilt after the latest incident puts Muslims in a bad spotlight. This comes at the expense of having ministries actively addressing the spiritual needs of black folks in neighborhoods hardest hit by white supremacy and who through internal colonialism have been ostracized from mainstream America.  The strict separation of religion from the lived material realities of Black people is the trick of secularism. Both the Negro imam and Muslim immigrant institutions ultimately get subsumed by a theology that presents no credible threat to white supremacy.

As Black Muslims turn to Malcolm X for theological and political insights, not just as a social prop, they will seek to establish actual Black Muslim institutions firmly dedicated to ending global white supremacy. Black Muslims will look to the spiritual wisdom of our ancestors Uthman Dan Fodio, Nana Asma’u, Askia Muhammad and others to organize for Black power to actually dictate what the narrative for Islam in America means: freedom, justice and equality for the Black man and woman. To do this, Black Muslims should use the legacy of Malcolm X to engage the world.



Hakeem Muhammad is a Black Muslim Public Intellectual, Public Interest Law Fellow at Northeastern Law School, and Educator at Muslim Empowerment Institute (MEI).  Muhammad’s scholarship is dedicated to Islamic revival in the black community. He believes that  Islam must be restored to having the transformative effect in once had in mitigating the social ills of  Black America.  Muhammad has previously worked in the African-American Male Initiative  working to increase the college retention rates of Black Male students. He has also taught  political philosophy for the Cal Speech and Debate Camp at U. C Berkeley. Muhammad is also the author of the forthcoming book, “The Significance of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan to the Entire Muslim Ummah.”










July 10, 2017



A New Take On

An Old Story:

Robyn C. Spencer’s The

Revolution Has Come


This post is part of our online roundtable on Robyn Spencer’s The Revolution Has Come

Chico Neblett and Bobby Seale (back) leading audience with a Black Power salute at the Black Community Survival Conference, March 30, 1972 (Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Stanford University Libraries)
Chico Neblett and Bobby Seale (back) leading audience with a Black Power salute at the Black Community Survival Conference, March 30, 1972. Photo: Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Stanford University Libraries. 

The wealth of scholarly inquiry into the history of the Black Panther Party (BPP), including the most recent studies timed to accompany the fiftieth anniversary of the organization’s founding, still leaves many questions about the Party’s structure, accomplishments, and demise. One could read numerous books about the Panthers and learn precious little about the BPP’s daily activities, its finances, and why it fell apart.

Thankfully, Robyn C. Spencer’s excellent The Revolution Has Come sheds light on these issues. The author’s crisp, clean, incisive prose proved an eye-opening reading experience that at times left me dumbfounded as to how many myths and assumptions have come to dominate latter-day perceptions of the Panthers. The Revolution Has Come is no hagiography, but it will leave some people profoundly disappointed with certain key Panther figures, most notably Huey P. Newton, who in Spencer’s telling was more useful to the organization while incarcerated than while running things.

Other broadsides against Newton, like Hugh Pearson’s The Shadow of the Panther, might be cast aside as weakly sourced, biased, or part of a larger ideological takedown of the Black Panther Party. Spencer’s strongly researched and evenhanded approach will be harder for Newton—and BPP—apologists to contend with. Spencer’s account also states quite clearly that although Newton faced surveillance and harassment, it was neither police nor government repression that most profoundly compromised Newton, but rather his own failings.

The same point holds true for the BPP as a whole, Spencer argues, and not without faint traces of disappointment registering in a text wiped mostly clean of sentimental longing about the party or its members. The truly heroic of the Panther rank-and-file—mostly women—were betrayed catastrophically by party leadership—mostly men, especially Newton, and in a lesser sense David Hilliard. Although this is a less-than-flattering portrayal of Hilliard, The Revolution Has Come never ignores his contributions, particularly as the party chief of staff who played a crucial role in structuring the organization. Bobby Seale, on the other hand, comes off throughout as a reasonable leader, but Spencer nevertheless makes clear that women galvanized the BPP and that Panther men, especially at the top, were as likely as not to be detrimental to the group’s survival, including its ability to institute successful community programs.

What makes Spencer’s more critical portraits so convincing is that they are presented within an analytical structure that clearly articulates the BPP’s positive virtues as standard bearers of America’s civil and human rights vanguard. Readers of The Revolution Has Come will be greatly impressed by the reach of the BPP’s community programs and the dedication of its members. Overall it is a positive portrayal of the Black Panther Party that simply refuses to deny the organization’s many weaknesses.

The book’s economical length, just over 200 pages, testifies to Spencer’s ability to pick the right combination of words to relay complex ideas, often as signposts that keep the reader on course for her main points, as demonstrated in her description of Newton’s release from prison: “His release put the flesh-and-blood man on a collision course with the symbolic leader that Panthers had so carefully constructed” (96). The final narrative paragraph, just prior to the conclusion, perhaps best exemplifies Spencer’s ability to boil down ideas, as in merely a few sentences she succinctly summarizes one of her most important arguments:

The centralization of authority and the inability of rank-and-file members to hold leadership accountable severely circumscribed democracy in the Black Panther Party. The organization that had managed to empower black men and women to challenge so many institutions and fight for structural change in the world had disempowered them from believing that they could take the reins from one of their own party’s founders. Because criticism was unwelcome or resulted in only small reforms rather than a change of course, departure became the only recourse for disaffected members. In the end Newton would be the only Panther left standing in the wreckage.” (201)

Despite being one of the shortest books published about the Panthers, The Revolution Has Come is also one of the best.

Black Panther Women. Photo: PBS.


Spencer’s skill as an oral historian rests at the heart of the narrative. While I am not an expert on the BPP literature, many of the names in this book were new to me and will be new to readers, too. Not only did Spencer track down forgotten Panthers, but readers will also note her ability to get subjects to recount difficult situations, uplifting stories, and revealing details about their, or other people’s, personal lives. Readers will feel the pain and the triumph of the Panther experience as its survivors tell their stories.

Another strength that typifies the book, and which is also evident in the endnotes (which are as orderly as such can be), is the author’s ability to locate a key data point or piece of evidence in an archive or interview and write a succinct, no-frills, useful paragraph about it. Want to know what happened to Panthers whose chapters closed but still wanted to be part of the movement? See page 116. Want to know where there was interest in forming new Panther chapters in 1971–1972? See page 114. Want a list of BPP survival programs provided through the United Black Fund as of October 3, 1972? See page 131. Time and again, the author carefully chooses detail, telling us what we really need to know, not more nor less.

Such detail, clearly rendered, serves an important function. Merely listing the range of BPP programs in Oakland gives the reader a sense of the organization’s impact as a community force: the Free Breakfast Program, the People’s Free Food Program, the Inter-Communal Youth Institute, the Legal Aid Educational Program, the Free Busing to Prisons Program, the People’s Free Shoe Program, the People’s Free Clothing Program, the People’s Free Medical Research Health Clinic, the People’s Sickle Cell Anemia Research Foundation, the People’s Free Ambulance Service, the People’s Free Dental Program, the People’s Free Optometry Program, the People’s Free Plumbing and Maintenance Program, and the Community Cooperative Housing Program.

Black Community Survival Conference, March 30th, 1972, Free grocery distribution. Photo: Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Stanford University Libraries.
Black Community Survival Conference, March 30th, 1972, Free grocery distribution. Photo: Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Stanford University Libraries.


My positive impression of The Revolution Has Come makes it difficult to render much criticism, but it would be interesting to hear Spencer further explain her relationship to the interview subjects and the process of interpreting their responses. Occasionally, a phrase in the book made me think she should have asked more questions. For example, she writes, “Darron Perkins’s story is instructive. Perkins, who had once endured five lashes with a bullwhip without flinching when he was brought up in front of the Board of Corrections, believed that physical punishment was a viable method of maintaining ‘iron discipline’ to deal with the ‘hardheaded’” (162). How did she verify whether the man flinched or under what circumstances he was whipped? What does it mean to be brought up in front of the Board of Corrections, and how did whipping become part of the procedure? Some information is missing here.

While this was the rare passage that lacked clarity, perhaps the harder critique of the book might be that the interviewees were generally portrayed positively. Accusations of bias, unconscious or otherwise, cut deep, but at times I wondered whether two of the book’s most critiqued figures, Newton and Hilliard, might have fared better had they been able (in Newton’s case) or willing (in Hilliard’s case) to tell their stories to the author. Was Spencer’s positive portrayal of Seale related to her interviewing him?

Certainly there were openings in the book for more critical language toward Seale. Spencer writes of the Attica prison uprising in 1971, “At the request of the prisoners Seale went to Attica to negotiate for them” (115). Heather Ann Thompson’s 2016 book Blood in the Water portrays Seale’s appearance at Attica as ineffective, if not detrimental; he refused to speak for or to the prisoners, many of whom would have liked him to do both. While the prisoners’ request reflects the great esteem and influence that Seale and the BPP had in the hearts and minds of many underrepresented people, his failure to come through at this big moment does not register in Spencer’s language, even though it was the perhaps the most crucial lesson to be learned from Seale’s Attica fiasco.

Despite these minor criticisms, The Revolution Has Come is a very strong book that I would recommend for high school, undergraduate, and graduate school students as well as general readers. Even seasoned experts on the BPP will likely learn much from this wonderful new account.

Michael Ezra is Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University and editor of the Journal of Civil and Human Rights. He is the author of several books, including Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon and Civil Rights Movement: People and (with Carlo Rotella) The Bittersweet Science: Fifteen Writers in the Gym, in the Corner, and at Ringside. Follow him on Twitter @civilhumanright.





JULY 9, 2017



In Times of Division,

Finding Refuge—

And Fighting Back

—Through Art



Ficre Ghebreyesus, Eden
Photo: Courtesy of Ficre Ghebreyesus Fine Arts


i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

These words, from Warsan Shire’s viral poem, “what they did yesterday afternoon,” were among the first to come to mind when President Trump issued his initial travel ban (the one with seven countries, rather than the current six). Though Shire’s words no longer encouraged me to dance, or celebrate, as they had when they were espoused by Beyoncé in Lemonade, they felt like the only familiar thing I could cling to. Crowds were gathering at airports in New York and Washington, lawyers were arriving en masse to help would-be travelers paper their way out of the problem, and I sat at my desk and thought about what the order would mean for my family, and for me.

I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, raised in the suburbs of Washington, attended university in Rome, and now live in New York. My parents have lived just outside D.C. for about a decade. I am a former refugee, and a permanent resident. Instead of having a passport, I have a refugee travel document issued by the State Department. That turquoise document, with a U.S. seal on its cover, states on the opening page that it is “not a United States passport,” but it allows me to travel internationally. For all intents and purposes, it is my passport. Now, however, that document could be what keeps me from being admitted into the country. A lawyer I contacted after I got news of the ban put it this way: “The safest way to proceed is to not travel right now. . . . While technically and legally [you] should be admitted to the U.S. as a legal permanent resident who is not from one of the seven countries, [the fact of it being called a] ‘Refugee Travel Document’ may confuse things, and officers could detain and question [you].”

The facts: An abstract fear of having my movement restricted was coming into focus, as Trump’s campaign bravado became a reality. As I worked to learn more about the nuances of the ban and what my shifting, shrinking world meant for my life and work as a journalist, it dawned on me that the voices I cared most to hear weren’t those of the esteemed correspondents I’d read in journalism school, but those of young women of color who could speak with powerful rhetoric to the experience of not belonging—an experience that, in the increasingly divisive age of Trump, mattered more now than ever before. Shire’s poems, which largely revolve around the experience of being an African woman who is also an immigrant, were a reminder that my position—forced to leave one home to build a new one, and to straddle the border of two religions, two cultures, two countries—was far from unique. Her words made me feel less alone.

While novelists like Chimamanda Adichie, Imbolo Mbue, and Yaa Gyasi have written about some of the experiences of being an African woman in the West, it was poetry I found myself the most drawn to. For her part, Shire has said that there are many poems about the migrant experience “floating around the strange streets of the internet.” All I really needed to do was look for myself.

Soon, I found solace in the poems written by the young “Afropolitans,” a group whose name was popularized by the writer Taiye Selasi, who defined the classification this way: “Our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes. Some of us are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Most of us are multilingual: In addition to English and a Romantic or two, we understand some indigenous tongue and speak a few urban vernaculars. There is at least one place on the African Continent to which we tie our sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that we know like the backs of our hands.”


New Generation African Poets, a 2017 anthology of the work of 10 Afropolitan poets (nine of whom are women) managed to tap into the anxiety I’d felt even before Trump took office, over many years of various detainments at airports in the United Kingdom, in Italy, and in the United States, as I once again would wait to explain that no, I wasn’t American, so I didn’t have an American passport, and no, I didn’t have any other passport, but I had the right documents to travel. They were here for me again, now that the anxiety had reached a new tenor, particularly sharp in its sense of disappointment that the world I had been raised in was somehow closing. With countries shutting borders, and with leaders from Trump to Malcolm Turnbull attempting to force people to self-identify as one or the other, these women were grappling with the difficulties of being forced to choose an identity. Afropolitans, I realized, are the answer to Trump’s vision of America and Theresa May’s vision of Britain. We will not identify as any one “thing,” as we are intrinsically so many. In that way, we are the future.

There are other ways in which these poems reflect our current moment. Nearly every part of the anthology is weighted by histories of colonization and the fight for independence. Each book in the anthology is adorned with images of dark bodies; traveling, in gardens, in the sea. Images of African bodies as angels and mermaids painted by the late Eritrean artist Ficre Ghebreyesus seem to eerily reflect the perilous daily journey made by Africans crossing the Mediterranean (“This sea has always swallowed us/ boats have always failed us/ land has always meant barbed wire,” writes Momtaza Mehri) and fleeing their own countries for safer ground, as in Lena Bezawork Gronlund’s “Everything Here.” But no poet’s work remains rooted in a time period: Rather, each poem moves through history and transitions into the present, where war and a sense of belonging remain continued struggles. The poets reach, through the most delicate prose, for something many people are still in search of: understanding.

The scariest part of living in Trump’s America is knowing that everything is random. At any moment, buffeted on by the winds of fate, or flattery, or harsh, unstudied action, he could sign an executive order that could irrevocably change my life— and that’s not something I can fight directly or alone. This anthology reminds me that poetry and all art that gives voice to women, immigrants, and people of color has a crucial place in the fight against demagoguery—and that history will remember the way that we treat the most vulnerable among us.

It’s fitting that the anthology ends with Chimweme Undi’s “The Habitual Be,” a collection about the experiences of itinerant Southern Africans, whether migrant workers or political refugees. Undi’s collection, perhaps unintentionally, ends with a reminder that despite our differences, we are connected:
Of course we come together different,
found a better way to separate this breath
from our bad habit of living, to name a
circle a circle and disregard a line.






Tell Your Story

The Flexible Persona is a literary magazine that publishes biannual print issues and semi-weekly web flash (fiction and creative nonfiction).

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2017 Readers Choice Awards

by TCK Publishing

Winner will receive a Kindle Fire HD 8 Tablet + A Book Review.


TCK Publishing is recognizing indie, self-published, and traditionally published authors and we’re inviting all of you to join this year’s Readers Choice Book Awards contest.

Get connected with your fans and ask them for their support by voting for you to boost your chances of winning!

Readers Choice Award Categories

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