The Racism Myth

Listening to the radio the other day, I heard a professor from one of America’s more distinguished institutions of higher learning explain what is motivating the “angry mobs” who have been raucously denouncing President Obama’s health-care plans: racism. When asked for evidence, the professor offered this: Some of the angry people made it plain that they are opposed to illegal immigration; worse still, others speak of the need for personal responsibility. As everyone knows, “illegal immigration” and “personal responsibility” are code words. Translated into honest English, what these people are saying is: “We don’t like persons of color,” and “We don’t like Obama because he’s a person of color.”

So there you have it: A person of color happens to sit in the White House (God knows how he ever got there in such a racist country), and if he gets his way with health care, he’ll be taking money away from hardworking white people and giving it to his brown and black brothers and sisters.


Why would anybody believe something as crazy as this? To answer the question, we have to look at who is apt to believe such a thing. There are three categories of people who still contend, despite massive evidence to the contrary, that the United States remains a terribly racist country:

1. There are so-called “civil-rights leaders” whose specialty is to do very bad imitations of a genuinely great man, Martin Luther King Jr. If it turns out that white Americans are no longer racist in a significant way, these guys will have to find a new job.

2. Then there are professors of “African-American Studies,” who rely very heavily on the white-racism paradigm when writing and teaching. White racism explains an awful lot when examining the historical experience of blacks in America, but it explains little about the current situation of African-Americans. But if you’re intellectually lazy, it’s so very convenient, instead of thinking through the new situation, just to use the old paradigm.

(These African-American Studies professors, by the way, unlike the civil-rights leaders, don’t have to worry about finding a new job if they finally face the fact that white racism is mostly a thing of the now-distant past, for the professors have tenure. They still have their classrooms — but what will they now say when they enter them?)

3. Finally there are white “progressives.” These are well-educated persons of upper- or upper-middle class socio-economic status. You’d think, given their intelligence and education, and given the further fact that every day they inform themselves about the world by reading the best newspapers and magazines, that they would have observed by now that anti-black racism has — thanks in great measure to King, who, marvelous to say, actually succeeded in his goal of changing the racist mind of white America — become a relatively insignificant thing in today’s America.

These people realize that their friends, like themselves, are non-racist. At the same time, they believe that just a few steps below them on the social ladder — that is, among the ill-educated unfortunates who populate the lower-middle and working classes — there is a seething mass of anti-black racism. These “inferior” people have learned not to express their racism in the blunt and disgusting language that was used in the days of their fathers and grandfathers, but the racism is still there. You can detect it in their code words. It is a natural consequence of the frustrated lives that these people live. Frustrated people become angry and aggressive; angry/aggressive people look for a scapegoat; and the traditional American scapegoat has been the black man. Progressives feel that they are sitting at the top of a racist volcano that might explode any day now.

The myth of white racism serves a number of valuable psychological purposes for high-status white progressives:

 

  • It gives them a great feeling of moral superiority. “Most white Americans are racist, but not us.”

  • It justifies their high levels of wealth and income. “We are good, and so we deserve to be rich. It’s almost enough to make one believe in the existence of God.”

  • It justifies their desire to keep political power out of the hands of the lower orders and as much as possible in the hands of judges and bureaucrats. “We believe in democracy, certainly; but we can’t let unlimited political power fall into the hands of racists.”

To a great extent, these progressives have taken control of the national Democratic Party. What used to be the party of America’s plain people has increasingly become the party of its privileged people. If non-progressive white Americans have increasingly abandoned the love affair many of their parents and grandparents used to have with the Democratic Party, this is in no small measure because these whites, having pretty much renounced racism, don’t like being told again and again by “civil-rights leaders” and very privileged whites that they remain racist. When civil-rights leaders tell them this, these whites get annoyed. When the higher classes tell them this, they feel worse than annoyed; they feel insulted.

By

David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include "Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion" and "The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America." Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

  • Austin

    There is still a fair degree of racism in the US today, but notwithstanding that, we now have a large group of people, let’s call them “race pimps” such as Sharpton, Jackson, & Co. who make a living with the race grevience industry. There is a lot of money in the race business and we now have many people who make their living in this industry.

    The Democratic party has been taken over by this group. Amazing how ethnic whites whose parents came here in the early 1900’s such as the Italians, Eastern European Jews, etc. get blamed for slavery.

  • Rich

    While I tend to agree that there is far less racism in America than there was, I have to say that the author’s arguments appear as thin as those he tries to debunk.

    He does not like the evidence from the professors, and yet uses the same kind of “evidence” against those he calls progressives.

    Interesting.

    It seems to me that this article paints some as class snobs who are accused of prejudice in that regard because the author does not like his perception of their calling some other Americans prejudiced.

    I have to ask…who is served by this article? Really?

  • Ron Cowie

    How does this column fit in with the idea of Inside Catholic?

    I’m less and less impressed with the overarching tone of the last two columns.

  • Mike M

    It has been clear to me for years now that the Democrat/Liberal/Progressive is a total fraud, fake, and phony.

    In my opinion, because of where they live and whay they have been given, these are not only the worst people in America; they are the worst people it is possible to have in America or anywhere. There are no exceptions. They are Hitler without tanks and Stalin wiothout Gulags.

    Yet.

    Once they get them, or feel they can get them, it will be world-wide catastrophe…as history proves it always is with these elitist poseurs, scolds, and nogoodniks.

    They already kill babies by the millions. As they ever do, grown ups are next.

  • Maureen

    The ones who are calling us racist because we oppose Obama’s radical left agenda are the same people who ignored his stands on the issues and voted for him because of the Historical precedent of having the first African American president.
    THEY VOTED ACCORDING TO RACE. They didn’t vote the issues.
    Now they’re trying to PROJECT that onto us. [smiley=shock]
    Sorry, we just don’t like the human sacrifice (abortion and embryonic destruction etc.), socialist policies, and general arrogance of the man.

  • R.C.

    Professor Carlin states that there’s no longer much racism in America. He finds fault with three groups which — he says, and I think it’s hard to argue otherwise — exaggerate the prevalence of racism, unjustly accusing their political opponents for political advantage and poisoning the well of public discourse for their own dishonest benefit.

    Austin hops in to say he’s right, but let’s not kid ourselves, racism still exists in the U.S. today, and “a fair degree” of it.

    Rich notes that the arguments appear rather thin on evidence.

    I find I’m inclined to agree with all three…but I can’t state anything more confident than an inclination because I’m not sure exactly what is being said…except by Rich, whose complaint is related, inasmuch as if you’re going to collect evidence about something, you first need to precisely define what it is you’re collecting evidence of.

    So I think more precision is required, at least about terms. How much racism is “not much,” anyway? (Which is my phrasing, not Carlin’s; but one gathers that’s what he has in mind when arguing that the actual prevalence is way less than the race-baiters make it out to be.) And how much is “a fair degree?”

    And what do we mean by “racism,” anyway?

    That’s not a facetious remark. The word “racism” gets thrown around nearly as loosely as the ad Hitlerum argument.

    Off the top of my head I can identify five different things which get described as “racism” without breaking a sweat:

    (1.) Racism proper: A conscious, organized belief system in which moral duties are driven by a belief that either (a.) races are generally “inferior” or “superior”; or (b.) races should keep separate from one another. (These are called Supremism and Separatism respectively.)

    Example: Oh, you know, Hitler, skinheads, Margaret Sanger and most of the early 1920’s progressive movement who wanted to thin out the “unfit races.”

    (2.) Bigotry: Outwardly demonstrated intolerance and mistreatment which is indicative of negative stereotypes of another race, which may or may not stem from any organized racist belief system.

    Example: The treatment of Jews by Spaniards after southern Spain was retaken from the Moors.

    (3.) Prejudice: Expectations or suspicions of individuals based on racial stereotypes (which may be positive, negative, or neutral), which may or may not be outwardly demonstrated, and which may or may not be statistically valid, but in any case represent inadequate cognizance of the wide variability of individuals within a racial group.

    Example: The anxiety even Jesse Jackson admitted feeling when walking down a street late at night in Harlem and spotting a group of teenage boys approaching him. Second Example: The relief he admitted feeling when he realized they were white. Possible Third Example: The statistically very low probability that the group would turn out to be a mixed group, rather than all black, all white, or all Hispanic.

    (4.) Value-Neutral Culture Preferences: Racial groups often have specific sub-cultures associated with them; aspects of these may sometimes be disliked, on purely aesthetic preferential grounds, by individuals of other racial groups, or even individuals within the same racial group.

    Example: The nasally, thin singing tone of some male R&B singers, and the melody-obscuring melismatic curlicues of some female R&B singers, are very annoying to me. Folks who like either are welcome to them, and if they find the singing voice of Geddy Lee or Jon Anderson distasteful, well, I’ll stick to what I like and they can stick to what they like, even if what I like tends to follow the pattern of “stuff white folk like,” and their stuff is associated more with “stuff black folk like.”

    (5.) Culturism: An opinion that particular cultures, or aspects of particular cultures, are actually morally or practically inferior or superior to others.

    Example: I think a culture which legalizes abortion and produces more than a single-digit percentage of unwed pregnancies is morally inferior to a culture which outlaws abortion and keeps unwed pregnancies rare, all things being equal.

    Now that’s five different things. (There may be more.)

    Which one of these “racisms” are we complaining about?

    I think it’s fair to say that there’s very little Racism Proper in the U.S. today, and equally importantly, that it’s never politically empowered. There are, I suppose, counties in the U.S. where being publicly acknowledged as an enthusiastic member of the KKK or a Neo-Nazi group won’t prevent you getting elected anything higher than dogcatcher…but I don’t suppose there are more than a dozen such places in the whole country. (Possible exception: Being a member of La Raza doesn’t seem to cause the same level of impediment, but despite its problematic name and occasionally incendiary rhetoric, La Raza doesn’t have the history of genuine nastiness of the KKK.)

    There is some bigotry, but it’s quite subdued. Living in the American South as I do, I’ve never witnessed it myself, and all the stories I hear of it seem to come, oddly, from folk who’ve lived up North. I can’t explain it except to wonder if, once segregation was gotten over, the South didn’t pretty much reconcile to actual neighborhood integration, whereas islands of “Did you see who just moved in next door? Oh, well, there goes the neighborhood!” may persist in places where the National Guard didn’t make a point of the issue?

    …continued…

  • R.C.

    …continuing…

    I think there’s “a fair degree,” to use Austin’s phrase, of prejudice, on all sides. Sometimes there’s no ill-will associated with it, even on sensitive-seeming topics. A local talk radio personality in my area sometimes indulges in a good-humored on-air game of “White Crime or Black Crime?” with his producer (he’s white, the producer is black). The game is: A third person reads out an item from the local “police blotter”; the host and producer then have to guess whether the alleged perps were white or black.

    If, in reading about the preceding game, you had little trouble imagining the types of crimes which caused both host and producer to laughingly guess either “white” or “black,” then: Welcome to the world of the prejudiced!

    As for differences of aesthetic preferences and “culturism”; well, the former is a requirement for the much lauded “diversity” to exist; and I hold that on some points, the latter’s synonymous with sanity. So I don’t suppose anyone’s much worried about either of those.

    In the end, then, the “BAAAAD racisms” are Racism Proper, Bigotry, and Prejudice, in descending order of importance.

    About these, I think that:

    (a.) There is more Prejudice (the least bad) than Bigotry, and more Bigotry (the second worst) than Racism Proper (the worst);

    (b.) All three are far less prevalent in the mainstream of the United States today than a half-century ago;

    (c.) All three are less prevalent than in most, or perhaps all, other countries whose populations are equally diverse;

    Obviously I have no hard numbers on any of this. I don’t know that anyone else does, either. We have anecdotal experience…but then, I’ve been blessed to know a lot of wonderful people and have good neighbors, so my experience may be anomalous.

    Still, I think all three “racism” problems are on the wane.

    Does this mean we deserve a lot of back-patting?

    Well, no. First there’s history to consider, even if “we’ve come a long way, baby.” And secondly, in God’s eyes, “we are only lowly servants, we are only doing our duty.” You don’t get extra credit for not being a bigot!

    But I think it does support Professor Carlin’s main point, which was: The race-baiters and agitators are, factually speaking, increasingly absurd. Morally speaking, they are increasingly contemptible.

    And for that reason I think it is increasingly contemptible that the Democratic national party leadership don’t dismiss these clowns with the same contempt that the Republican leadership would show for, say, skinhead groups.

    Still and all, America’s better off than she once was, and with God’s grace even the Louis Farrakhans and Al Sharptons and 60’s militants will eventually fade into the dustbin of history, joining the Grand Dragons and Skinheads who’ve already preceded them.

    I’m sure they’ll have a lot to talk about.

  • Charles

    I for one found R.C.s comments more interesting and more thought-out than the parent article.

    I probably fall into the category of progressive white even though I’m not technically white or especially progressive. I am however what is generally considered a liberal (although with some significant exceptions such as abortion).

    As R.C. states and I agree, prejudice is the most prevalent form of racism remaining in this country, at least as far as blacks are concerned. It is undeniably obvious that poverty and crime are distributed per capita across racial lines that is statistically improbable due to anything other than latent racism. The same is true of prison populations.

    If we truly believe that ‘all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights’ and that we as a nation have constructed our institutions to accurately reflect these beliefs, then we would expect to see such things as poverty evenly distributed across racial lines. We do not see this, and I am hard pressed to find any explantation than prejudice to explain this non-random distribution that does not move back up the spectrum towards institutionalized bigotry and racism – such as blaming the black-American culture or arguments that Whites somehow are more properly motivated.

    The common tactic used by more conservative elements these days is to blame progressive governmental institutions – i.e. the welfare system et al. and I find this argument to be particularly bigoted. First, one would have to believe that these institutions were designed and targeted at racial types rather than economic types and that eligibility for such programs are designed in such a way that they are available to blacks AS BLACKs over other groups as racial types rather than socio-economic standing. Second, it presupposes that having a governmental institution tailor made for their race, blacks lack the internal motivation or moral integrity to see their dependence as a failing and terminate the relationship, that they are, in fact, as a race, choosing dependence over self-sufficiency.

  • Deal W. Hudson

    Great column David, right on the money as usual! The defenders would the health care reform would rather call their critics names than defend the deeply flawed legislation.

  • Dave Cito

    To be a racist means to act primarily due to color of someone else. If you are talking about “attitude” toward other racists, I know about plenty of black racists. Seething hatred and rudeness. But people are getting wise to those who cry “racism” to win an argument. People used to act as cowards when that happens, give in, give up, give blacks what they wanted to avoid “racist” accusation. We are smarter than that now.

  • Brian Saint-Paul

    I for one found R.C.s comments more interesting and more thought-out than the parent article.

    R.C. has a big fan club here, not least among the staff. He’s great.

    Which actually reminds me… RC, drop me an email when you get the chance: (saint-paul at insidecatholic.com)

  • Analyst

    I have to ask…who is served by this article? Really?

    Rich nailed it. NO ONE is served by this article. Not here. Not anywhere.

    Fanning the flames of resentment usually doesn’t further understanding, and certainly not self-knowledge.

  • Tyler

    I have to agree with Analyst and Rich and Ron Cowie on this. What purpose does this article serve on Inside Catholic? And to echo Ron Cowie, I would ask the same question about the recent columns by John Zmirak (Chastity) and Steve Skojec (Death of Me-Church).

  • Nick Palmer

    If ya don’t like it, it “doesn’t fit” here on Inside Catholic. Right?

    So, where’s the evidence of racism in any appreciable, systematic form in the US today? Spend some time in Europe. The German’s love to ask me about “die Schwarze.” And, don’t get them started on Turks…

  • Tyler

    If ya don’t like it, it “doesn’t fit” here on Inside Catholic. Right?

    Not at all Mr. Palmer. I substantially agree with the author’s premise. But all this column does is rehash an unoriginal idea without offering any particularly Catholic perspective and without moving the debate forward in any substantial, or even charitable, manner.

    The internet is teeming with the kind of “gotcha” analysis that merely entrenches rancor and disagreement. I am disappointed to see this kind of point-scoring rear its head on Inside Catholic.

  • John

    Title says it all

  • Administrator

    Title says it all

    While RC deserves a nap, we’re happy to take advantage of his careful analysis.

  • Rich

    Title says it all

    While RC deserves a nap, we’re happy to take advantage of his careful analysis.

    I have to admit, I am an R.C. fan as well.

  • Jason Negri

    I share Jesse Jackson’s apprehension when I am approached by a crowd of black teenagers.

    I despise rap music with its glorification of multiple sins and aggressive violent overtones, and I certainly think inferior the subculture that it comes from and primarily appreciates it. And I resent the aggressive attitude whereby someone (almost always black) plays this garbage exceedingly loud in their car with their windows down, as if daring me to complain about their disturbance of the peace.

    I observe that 40+ years of concerted American effort to counteract societal racism AND 25+ years of affirmative action have not resulted in a marked societal advancement of blacks as a race.

    I resent people making excuses for poor behavior in minorities that they would not countenance in a Caucasian. I do not make these allowances and I try to judge & treat people as individuals, not members of a class or race.

    So, am I a racist? And if I am, based on these criteria, how many of you are, too? And if we are, based on these criteria, it is necessarily a bad thing? Get rid of the knee-jerk baggage that comes with that word and think about whether being labelled a “racist”, according to today’s (lack of) standards really means anything at all.

    It used to be a compliment to say someone had “discriminating” tastes. Now, all discrimination – even between good and bad – is frowned upon. Too bad.

  • Matthew

    RC, in his initial post, comments that a form of racism involves culture. He describes this as follows:

    ” Culturism: An opinion that particular cultures, or aspects of particular cultures, are actually morally or practically inferior or superior to others.”

    So much of what we call racism today is really the tension felt between differing cultures. In essence, this really has nothing to do with skin color because even a “white” person can indulge or participate in “black” culture through music, dress, dialect, and body postures. And the same can be said for the black person. I find it quite intriging that if a black person succeeds in what is perceived as a white man’s world, or worse, yet, becomes a dreaded conservative or Republican, than that person is often vilified by his/her own community. That person is now considered outside the black culture and is either an “oreo”, “uncle Tom” or is not being true to the color of his/her “people.” Please tell me what one’s political philosophy or religion or outlook on life has anything to do with skin color? It doesn’t, but somehow we want to squeeze it into the framework of race.

    Charles writes previously “I am hard pressed to find any explanation than prejudice to explain this non-random distribution that does not move back up the spectrum towards institutionalized bigotry and racism – such as blaming the black-American culture or arguments that Whites somehow are more properly motivated.”

    Charles writes off culture as if there is no way this can be the issue, but I ardently disagree. What defines the character of a person are the choices he/she makes and the values that help guide them, not the skin color. The choices and values are what define specific cultures such as Irish, Hispanic, German, etc. If the building blocks of your culture quietly or tacitly approve of out-of-wedlock births, fatherless homes, abortion, and drug use, it is quite obvious that this will hold a person back, no matter what the skin color.

    I am personally tired of the term “racism” being thrown around when in actuality; it is culture that we are talking about. Sadly, even today, if one is to comment or disagree with an aspect of culture, you are labeled “racist.” I don’t deny that racism still exists today in America, but so much of what we call racism is not truly about skin color, but culture. Let’s focus on the real problem of today, and quit trying to squeeze it into a past paradigm.

  • Joe H

    Carlin writes,

    “It gives them a great feeling of moral superiority. “Most white Americans are racist, but not us.””

    I do believe there are many “progressives” who think this way.

    There are some progressives, however, who flagellate themselves in more vicious, albeit psychological, fashion than the monks and ascetics of the Middle Ages.

    They believe racism is something deeply instilled in them as a white people, if not by genetics, at least by cultural transmission. They believe it takes a lifetime of soul-scrubbing to remove racist tendencies, and even that may not be enough; likely they will die racists.

    What they believe distinguishes them is their “awareness” of the problem and their commitment to overcoming it to whatever extent possible. But it will likely never be enough.

    We shouldn’t be surprised. Man is a religious being to his core, even if he arrogantly believes he has disposed of the spiritual dimension of existence. Inherent white racism takes the place of original sin in the theology of secular liberalism.

    What we should note is that like many Christians these days, most secular liberals don’t realize that it is a tenant held by their professional theologians. They may ignorantly believe themselves free of racist tendencies, but believe me, the intellectual cadres of the movement do not accept that idea at all.

    Of course, black people (and I suppose, most other minorities, but especially black Americans) have no inherent sins for which they must repent; if they have any sins at all, it is because of what white devils did to him.

    But don’t tell the white secular liberal, or he might get the idea that even at his noblest he is still making distinctions between himself and “the other”. I think that by denying black people a role in their own misfortunes – not total responsibility, but a role – we dehumanize them as much as any racist. That it goes in the other direction, towards proclaiming them inherently good as opposed to inherently inferior, doesn’t make a difference. It still makes them something different than white people, and in the end that will fail to satisfy both secular liberals and black people themselves.

  • Joe H

    When are you going to write a column already?

    smilies/smiley.gif

  • Richard

    Walk into any firehouse in NYC and you’ll meet a large ethnic mix of mostly Catholic whites. Germans, Irish, Italian, Polish, the very groups discriminated against by the American nativists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Our president has seen fit to appoint to the Supreme Court a jurist who feels it is okay to discriminate against these people in civil service jobs. This is probably the only racism approved of in the US.

  • Kevin in Texas

    What they believe distinguishes them is their “awareness” of the problem and their commitment to overcoming it to whatever extent possible. But it will likely never be enough.

    We shouldn’t be surprised. Man is a religious being to his core, even if he arrogantly believes he has disposed of the spiritual dimension of existence. Inherent white racism takes the place of original sin in the theology of secular liberalism.

    What we should note is that like many Christians these days, most secular liberals don’t realize that it is a tenant held by their professional theologians. They may ignorantly believe themselves free of racist tendencies, but believe me, the intellectual cadres of the movement do not accept that idea at all.

    Of course, black people (and I suppose, most other minorities, but especially black Americans) have no inherent sins for which they must repent; if they have any sins at all, it is because of what white devils did to him.

    But don’t tell the white secular liberal, or he might get the idea that even at his noblest he is still making distinctions between himself and “the other”. I think that by denying black people a role in their own misfortunes – not total responsibility, but a role – we dehumanize them as much as any racist. That it goes in the other direction, towards proclaiming them inherently good as opposed to inherently inferior, doesn’t make a difference. It still makes them something different than white people, and in the end that will fail to satisfy both secular liberals and black people themselves.

    Very, very well written, Joe H! Much like Chesterton’s oft-quoted nugget about people who cease believing in God (i.e., that they will then believe any old thing).

    From a secular perspective on the issue of black culture and the damage it can do on impressionable black youth, I highly recommend either of Berkeley linguist John McWhorter’s books, but especially Losing the Race He writes very effectively and in simple layman’s terms about this issue, and he’s been much criticized in the black community for it (he’s a black man.)

    And I second your nomination of RC to write a column here on IC!

  • Todd
  • Bob L

    Thank you Professor Carlin for an accurate analysis of the history of Racism. It will be useful for me when confronted by the accusations that follow my resistance to Government run Health Care (or just about anything for that matter)

    I moved from the liberal North to the Conservative South where instead of finding the “racism” I was told existed here, I found every day people living every day lives in general harnmony with their racially diverse neighbors.

    It takes courage and wisdom to present the truth to many who are seeking only to reinforce there position.

    Keep writing Professor and I will keep learning.

  • Mark

    There is poverty in America. America is not a poor country. There is racism in America. America is not a racist country.

    Obviously some people are angry because the reality is finally sinking in that as of November 2008, nobody can claim that America is a racist nation without looking like a fool. I’m confident that some of these same folks are all about “open dialogue” when it comes to wide-ranging issues including “changes which are needed” within the Catholic Church. I’ve read many online articles about slavery but have never come across a comment similar to “who is served by this?” or “nobody is served by this!” so to see those comments pop up now that the liberal fallacy that America is a racist nation has been exposed is just, well, kind of funny.

    Reading everything R.C. writes is a treat. The more the better.

  • R.C.’s wife

    This is completely off-topic, but thank you all for the gracious and complimentary comments on R.C.’s comments, and thank you, InsideCatholic, for giving him a forum in which to express them. He does indeed think & speak like he writes, but unfortunately for him I am not always available as an interested audience. We have 3 kids under the age of 7, you see, and while I am unusually analytical for the female gender, R.C. is in a class by himself. {grin}

    And, yes, John, R.C. was supposed to take a nap this afternoon instead! 😀

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