Sociology Essay On Racism

What does Paul Gilroy means when he argues There ain t no black on the Union Jack ?Racism is a broad topic. It covers a large area of the human mind and an expanse of society that includes culture, morals, and power. It affects those of the same culture and religion. The term race has no biological basis, yet some may attempt to differentiate between the biology and politics of racism. Racism has been defined, as a belief that race is the fundamental element of human attribute and capacities. Racism, this essay would argue, can be seen as marginal to the normal processes of life and endorses the view of black people as an alien presence.Gilroy illustrates the complexity of racial politics in England today. Exploring the relationships among race, class, and nation as they have evolved over the past twenty years, He highlights racist attitudes that transcend the left-right political divide, and challenges sociological approaches to racism. Gilroy demonstrates effectively that cultural traditions are not static, but develop, grow and change, as they are influenced by and adapting other changing traditions around them. Essentially Paul Gilroy argues that the form of Naturalism present in Britain is a celebration of England and Englishness or Britishness, and this systematically excludes Black People (page 12). Black people are seen as a problem; the core reasoning of racism, and victims incapable of active, considered behaviour. Paul Gilroy deplanes the separation of race issues from the social and political processes; he fevers his argument through the key issues of race and class, black community and the law, anti racism and black expressive culture.This essay seeks to outline Gilroy s main argument towards understanding what is meant by this exclusion for Black Britians.Questions of race and racism have come to occupy a central role in political debate in Britain in recent years. At one time definitions seemed to be straightforward; today many social scientists have defined race as a human group, which is defined by other groups as different by virtue of innate and immutable physical characteristics. These physical characteristics can be viewed as being intrinsically related to morals, intellectual, and other non- physical attributes. 1Antony Flew, (1992) argues that the characteristics by which the individual is seen as different are strictly superficial. He writes that factors such as pigmentation, shape of skull and skin are all on the surface. In other words, we are all the same beneath the skin. Gilroy challenges the absolute definition of race and values issues with Marxist analyses of class. Marx s views on power assumed a class structure with a foundation that is based on economic dominance of capitalist employers and property-less workers. He believed that Politics and the state reflected this structure. Marx viewed Governments to be a coercive model of authority. Many would argue that a fundamental part of the British system is based on class structure. Marx also stated that power originates primarily in economic production, he claimed that it permeates and influences all aspects of society. Marx suggested that the main wielders of social power are social classes, and government is essentially servant of the dominant social class. Gilroy views Marx s class analysis as accurate, by the assumption based on the factuality that certain institutions of British society such as the civil services, judiciary, and the armed forces are all run by the elite (page 27). Furthermore, until quite recently it excluded black people from its hierarchy structure. Gilroy sees this as a crisis for the representation of black people. The state emphases racial categories and therefore a struggle against racism are a struggle against the state. The problem of what connects one anti-racist element to the next is not recognised as a substantive political issue (p.144).Contemporary racism is rooted in national decline rather than imperial expansion. However, ties such as the trade union struggles and traditions of anti-colonial struggle have helped to form a black social movement that is not part of the traditional class struggle Anti-racism has become a program of affirmative actions to be realised by administrative means and a political phenomenon. Socialism has lost many of its 19th Century assumptions regarding the superiority of some cultures to others. However, most black people have a concrete grievance that is not specifically about race. Instead of biological essence, cultural differences such as family relations, housing, education and employment are considered as being the cause for any lingering inequalities and social disadvantages of the ethnic minorities. This can be seen in the report by 2 The Office for National Statistics (1996). The report shows that black, Indian and Bangladeshi unemployment rates are three times higher in comparison to whites. The CPAG (1990) concluded that every indicator of poverty showed black people to be more at risk than, white people to homelessness. This is due to high unemployment, low pay, shift work, poor social security rights and because they were more likely to be treated for Schizophrenia. 3Furthermore, studies have shown that 52% of black people are more likely to be diagnosing as schizophrenia, in comparison to 13% of white British. This could be due to different referral rates to hospitals by GPs or other psychiatric services. However, Hollingshead & Redlick (1958) found a much higher level of mental disorders in most unskilled and low social classes than skilled, clerical, professional and managerial classes. One might not expect any major differences in the distinction of mental illnesses e.g. schizophrenia and depression according to class or race. Nevertheless, due to the vulnerability of black & minority ethnic groups to homelessness, high unemployment and low pay etc., the findings could be support that they are more likely to be treated for schizophrenic because of racial segregation.However, Gilroy argues that black people who actually experience this type of discrimination are not always fully represented in society except as the objects of experts discussions. It is this conjecture, which forms the background for Gilroy's book. Gilroy wishes to break the alternating current of racism between problem and victim status, an opportunity that he considers as lying in the possibility of representing a black presence outside these categories (page 13). Such a presence is to be located by looking at the history of race as an active category in the cultural concept. If anti racism is to succeed it must stop treating black people as victims and bring them into the debate as being fully capable of making choices about their own liberation.

Gilroy uses effective illustrations to support his arguments from studying anti racism leagues such as, rock against racism, and the Greater London Council anti-racism campaigns, of the late 70s, and the strategies of labour local authorities after 1981 about which he is largely critical. He considers Rock against Racism to have displayed a resolution missing from the Anti Nazi League, Rock against Racism had allowed space for youth to rage against the perceived iniquities of Labour authorities. The Anti Nazi League commensurate racism and fascism, representing the National Front as a false nationalism which threatens the purity of parliamentary democracy. Gilroy argues that Culture does not develop along ethnically absolute lines, but in complex, dynamic patterns of syncretism in which new definitions of what it means to be black emerge from raw materials provided by black populations (p13). Gilroy talks about exclusion, but in his discussions of black expressive culture, he examines the black social movement. Black expressive culture for Gilroy is an achievement for Black people, which draws its influences from black America as well as the Caribbean and has had drastic influences in urban Britain (p.68). Especially through its youth culture, this can be seen in style, dance, dress, language and music. However, the black cultural movement, through its plurality, is outside the nation state. Its struggle involves the community and locality as well as race.Gilroy suggests that this is a poor modern version of anti racism struggle and uses the riots of Broadwater Farm (1988) as examples.He also points to the Scarman report (1981) which seemed to set the seal on black exclusion by referring to black struggles in terms of family structure and lifestyle that creates a predisposition towards violent protest. The law is at the core of the nation state and represents national identity. Gilroy argues that Black people are however seen as a problem. Black crime is seen as part of black culture, black criminality is seen as proof of the incompatibility of blacks as British. Gilroy discusses the evolution of race as a policing problem, one largely missing until the rise in mugging in the middle 1970s. In 1985, Sir Paul Condon triggered a row when he urged ethnic community leaders to recognise that young black males were responsible for most muggings in London. Roger Graef et al. argued that racist attitudes are wide spread among police officers. He concluded that the outlook of the police was actively hostile to all minority groups. Roger Graef argument can be backed by studies from 4The Institute of Race relation which shown that black people form over one quarter of all stops and searches in the Metropolitan police area. The report also shows that stop and searches have increased by 21% from 1996/97 to 1997/98. Furthermore, the report also claims that the black people are 7.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched and 4 times more likely to be arrested than white people. It could be argued that police stop and search can be seen as a convenient method of policing, especially in inner city and black areas. However, given the nature of the police as an institution, and the racism within the British society in which it operates, stop and search is bound to be seen in a racially discriminatory manner.Gilroy debates that Urban disturbances in Britain since 1976 are seen as a race problem. An example of this is the summer of 1981 when Brixton became the scene of rioting which was put down to racial tension in the inner-cities. However, it could be argued that in all these cases of race rioting, (Brixton) white people were involved and it was more of a community struggle than a racial war which goes to support Gilroy s argument of poor example of modern anti racism.Gilroy argues for a radical overhaul of class in the league of race. Gilroy s argument holds a strong point for black people and Marxist views on the class structure such as when we look at the top jobs held in British society such as: bank managers, judges and company directors, where black people seem to be left at the bottom of the ladder. Black people need to be a part of the British social class and treated as equals in all aspects of British life. Gilroy would like issues of race to become part of the social and political process, and not separated from them. This essay argues that the British society believes they are all united by a common culture but are separated by language. The truth is that the British have adopted much of the ethnic minority language but have failed to understand how different the cultures are. Nevertheless, the British find confirmation of their culture and the superiority they feel they have gained over the black population. Yet, they live their lives in a wash of bizarre practices to which they are blind to other cultures.Black British define themselves as a Diaspora (which goes to show that they believe themselves to be a part of the British society and are dispersed all over Britain) and have already influenced white urban audiences in urban Britain. Anti racism needs to take the possibilities of black struggle aboard, they need to understand black people and their culture and include them more in the British society. However, Barry Richardson wrote, To be black in Britain today is to be different from being white. Differently valued, differently treated in a thousand ways .British national identity as represented by its national flag, persists in excluding Black Britians. Gilroy s argument There ain t no Black in the Union Jack presents a powerful argument to illustrate this.Paul Gilroy s book is probably intended for an academic audience but is of immense interest to the everyday reader who has an interest in the everyday struggles of the black people in British society. More specifically, Gilroy is trying to clear away the harsher class analysis in beating back the social stereotype of black Britains. He finds temporary, historical, and economic awareness of racism as signs, which show a healthy expressive culture refusing mediation and creating urban spaces within which the black identity can be created and preserved.

Translated with the support of the Institut Français

Series: Urban Studies in France

The city – the destination of predilection for migrants both national and international – is, par excellence, a place of social, ethnic and cultural diversity, of everyday experiences of otherness, and also of racism. However, the question of interethnic relations in the city – including racism – was, until recently, still an “unthought” within the French tradition of urban sociology. [1] The term “interethnic” is understood here in the sense of a relational, contextual and constantly evolving approach to ethnicity along a line of thinking inspired by Max Weber, where ethnic groups are formed by the processes that lead individuals to claim for themselves – or assign to other individuals – a common origin (Barth 1965; Poutignat and Streiff-Fenart 1995), whether national, regional, religious and/or cultural, or even “racial” in nature.

What do we mean by the terms “race” and “racial”, which still recall the history of slavery, of (de-)colonization and of crimes committed by states with a racial legal structure such as Nazi Germany and Apartheid-era South Africa? Although now rid of its historical pseudo-scientific meaning, the term “race” is nonetheless essential if we are to consider racism from a sociological perspective (Guillaumin 1972, 1994). As a radicalised mode of ethnicisation, “racial” categorisation absolutises differentiation according to one’s origin or culture; it makes this differentiation an immutable and definitive category, and implies a final explanatory principle: it naturalises difference (Guillaumin 1972 De Rudder 1991 Fassin and Fassin 2006). Aside from, or in addition to, physical markers (largely manipulable and manipulated), when categorisations by nationality, regional or continental subsets (“Europeans”, “Africans”, “North Africans”, etc.), language (“French-speaking Africans” in South Africa), culture (“Berber”, “Chinese”), religion (“Muslim”, “Coptic”) or place of residence (“cities”) are used independently of actual nationalities, migration patterns and diverse forms of socialisation – and, above all, when such categorisations are defined as impenetrable barriers between groups (Simon 1986) – then these categories become euphemisms designating racialised groups, maintained in a context of difference and radical inequality. As “races” are the product of racist relations, quotation marks shall be used when referring to groups constituted in this way.

This article re-examines the curious fate of the legacy of the Chicago sociological tradition in the urban social sciences in France, which has long shed its ethnic and “racial” dimension. Alongside this tradition, many works on the “stranger in town” have been developed in parallel in the context of studies on international migration and interethnic relations. Now that a closer dialogue has been established, what promising areas of research have recently emerged for studying minority issues in the city?

The Chicago sociological tradition: a shared heritage

The birth of the “Chicago sociological tradition” is intimately linked to the study of the relationships between “races” and cultures in the city (Chapoulie 2001), so much so that the emergence of studies into interethnic relations is, in the United States, “contemporary with the institutionalisation of sociology as an academic discipline” (Cuche 2008, p. 44). Originally an Indian territory, Chicago experienced spectacular industrial development and population growth in the second half of the 19th century: its population rose from 4,500 in 1840 to 2.7 million in 1920. The city attracted many European immigrants, joined after 1914 by “Blacks” from the rural southern United States (Chapoulie 2001). In 1919, “race riots” broke out between, broadly speaking, “Whites” back from the war and wanting to return to their pre-war jobs, and the “Blacks” who had replaced them in the factories in their absence. The main “racial” groups in the Chicago tradition are thus derived from the three major generators of minority situations from a socio-historical perspective: colonisation, slavery and international labour migration (Juteau 1999).

Although the socio-historical trajectories of the United States and France are profoundly different (if intimately related), it is nonetheless true that, in specific forms, French history is also marked by slavery, colonisation and labour migration to emerging industrial centres. Scientifically, however, a paradox persists: just as the Chicago School – together with the Marxist urban sociology of the 1970s and ethnology in the city – is forming one of the major references of urban research in the current French social sciences (Hayot 2002), ethnicity, while a central question in the US, has long been conceived in France as an uncritical or even fraudulent importation of a uniquely American school of thought, categorisation and history. More specifically, the three urban sociology and urban anthropology textbooks that appeared almost simultaneously in 2001 and 2002 “all present French urban sociology as a project initiated by Paul-Henry Chombart de Lauwe between the social morphology of Maurice Halbwachs and the Chicago School” (Blanc 2002). [2]

This is the very same Maurice Halbwachs who – though just back from Chicago and in the process of writing, in Paris, his article opposing the Chicago School, at a time when France had the highest immigration rates in the world – “could not imagine that Paris or any other major French city – Marseille, for example – could constitute such an appropriate laboratory for examining an ‘ethnic experience’” (Cuche 2008). [3] Three key components would be taken from the Chicago School: the distribution of social groups in the city, with “natural and moral areas” and the Burgess model of concentric growth; the “urban ethnography” method of fieldwork; and the “personality” of the city-dweller. In the early 2000s, two texts by Jean-Michel Chapoulie would fill this strange void (Chapoulie 2001, 2002), but these work have found an audience mostly among specialists in the fields of migration and interethnic relations.

A broad consensus exists among authors claiming membership of the field of French urban sociology regarding the absolute necessity to take into account the social structure of places studied. What, however, is meant here by “social structure”? Do social relations among city-dwellers and their relationships to places not depend on their social class, age, gender, household structure and residential trajectories (see, for example, Authier 2001)? And yet an awareness of another dimension, seen as elusive and difficult (or even dangerous) to name, is visible in the embarrassment of researchers – for example, in the use of expressions such as “disadvantaged areas” or “young neighbourhoods”, that is to say categories of precisely the practice that amalgamates urban, social and “racial” characteristics, from which the authors seem to distance themselves by using quotation marks, but which are employed nonetheless without always being analysed. What are we to make of the ubiquity and the transversal nature of social categories based on origin – all the more transparent for being self-evident – where the dominant group considers itself to be the norm in terms of nationality, religion, language, culture and skin “colour”, from which “other ethnicities” are deemed to deviate to a greater or lesser extent? Would the figures of the bourgeoisie, so thoroughly explored by Michel Pinçon and Monique Pinçon-Charlot (1989, 2007), be any other colour than “white”?

In the detailed analyses made of the “urban riots” in France in 2005, theoretical tools regarding ethnic relations could have been mobilised in order to avoid the essentialist pitfall (Lagrange 2005) or the relative blindness concerning the importance of “racial” relations in the dynamics of the riots (especially in the seemingly ubiquitous disputes with the police), as illustrated, for example, in the earlier work Violences urbaines, violence sociale (Beaud and Pialoux 2003), where “racism” is portrayed as a sort of hostile context but remains largely unexplored as a social relationship. Nevertheless, works such as those by Sylvie Tissot on neighbourhoods as categories of public policy (2007), by Françoise de Barros (2005) on the legacy of colonial classifications in housing policies, and by Olivier Masclet (2003) on the municipal management of immigration in Gennevilliers, in the inner Paris suburbs, would change the way sociology considered France’s blighted banlieues. [4]

In stark contrast with the self-proclaimed domain of urban sociology (Pribetich 2010), a sociology of international migration, interethnic relations and racism has also developed in a dialogue with the Chicago tradition and, more generally, with English-speaking sociology, from which it has borrowed many of its theoretical tools (Poutignat and Streiff-Fenart 1995). Since the late 1970s, a body of French-language literature on interethnic relations and racism has developed, part of which has maintained an ongoing dialogue with urban sociology.

Interethnic relations in the city: from pioneering research in the 1970s to new developments in the 2000s

In France, for some time now, numerous works have been produced in the fields of sociology, anthropology, geography and history on the subject of the “stranger in town”. Véronique De Rudder (1990, 1999) has meticulously traced the development of this subject and provides a bibliography that borders on the exhaustive: production begins in the 1970s, often in minor publications and in relative isolation, before taking off in the 1980s, in particular thanks to work on multi-ethnic cohabitation. [5] These studies – today too numerous to review in the context of this article – examine the settlement of places, the social organisation of these places, their day-to-day life, exploring the relationship between foreigners and French nationals from diverse backgrounds, and between French nationals and those who feel they have “always” been indigenous, in public, commercial and residential spaces. Their authors, in this respect faithful to the Chicago tradition, have concentrated on working-class areas and immigrant neighbourhoods as points of entry for migrants into the city: they have helped to rehabilitate these spaces by demonstrating their role as places of protection and integration, as places of conflict and various compromises, and above all as places where urbanity and the concept of being a city-dweller is continually reinvented.

Of late, significant progress has been made in the dialogue between urban sociology and the sociology of interethnic relations and racism, as evidenced in recent works by urban sociologists. Among these, we might cite the studies conducted within the Observatoire Sociologique du Changement (at Sciences Po Paris), which initially focused on the social division of urban space and which has more recently produced quantitative research on ethno-racial segregation in the Paris region (Préteceille 2009), or on the educational systems in the Paris region and in Chicago, demonstrating in particular a greater institutional ability “to diversify socially, ethnically and ‘racially’ their elite” in the United States than in France (Oberti 2012). Recent theses on policies encouraging social mix through housing (e.g. Launay 2012) or theses in progress such as that of Marine Bourgeois, which builds upon previous research into policies for the allocation of social housing, explore as their main focus the intermingling of social categories and of “racial” categories, this intermingling being an essential part of the credo of diversity.

Anthropological research on cities has also given rise to renewed crossover between the sociology of migration and urban anthropology: in an article on the concept of “urban minorities”, Anne Raulin (2009) looks back on a long tradition of research concerned with concrete aspects of urbanity and attentive to the invention of the city by city-dwellers themselves (Agier 1999). In sum, it would appear that it is no longer tenable to adopt a position that seeks to avoid ethnic and “racial” issues – and the common categories that result from them in practice – by insisting on using categories such as “working and immigrant classes”, which are generally inadequate for taking account of the complex inequalities and power relations between social groups underlying the dynamics of ethnic boundaries (Jounin, Palomares and Rabaud 2008).

Racism in the day-to-day functioning of the city and its institutions: potential future lines of research

Unprecedented developments could arise by continuing the empirical and theoretical exploration of the social relations of “race” in the city. With regard to housing, there are a number of notable works on discrimination in access to social housing (Ménard, Simon and Palomares 1999; Simon and Kirszbaum 2001; Tissot 2005; Pan Ké Shon 2010), or the “common spaces of decolonised immigrants” (Bernardot 2008) that are detention centres and temporary accommodation. The ethnographic studies by Pascale Dietrich-Ragon and Florence Bouillon (2012) on squats in Paris reveal the close interdependencies between the situations of “squatters” “illegal immigrants” and “Africans”. Attention to racism in interethnic relations and gender relations sheds new light on neighbourly relations (Tissot 2011), people’s relationship to their neighbourhood of residence, and forms of urban mobility (Le Renard 2011). Aude Rabaud (2002), for instance, shows how, in a social-housing district in the Bordeaux suburbs, the ethnicised categories of “dads”, “mums” and “people from the towers” regularly feature in condescending injunctions, which must be dealt with by the residents thus targeted on a day-to-day basis in urban public spaces. Élise Lemercier (2010) describes urban mobility practices that enable emotional or sexual encounters between young descendants of North African migrants, preferably outside the neighbourhood of residence. Between the importance attached on virginity before marriage – which has become an emblem of their community (Tersigni 2001) – and the overriding pressure on young North African women to engage in premarital sexual experimentation, the author shows how a shopping centre, described in the words of the interviewees (male and female) as the “pick-up joint for the whole city” has become a place of cultural reinvention, making it possible for young men and women to meet and engage in relationships “while waiting for” (or in order to meet) their “future husband” or “future wife”, away from the gaze of others.

These works are innovative because they take account of the racism present in the day-to-day functioning of democratic societies. While it is true that “race” has no legal existence in France, the categorisation and differentiated and unequal treatment of social actors, based on their presumed or attributed “racial” origin, are very much present in day-to-day social relations such as the routine operation of institutions, although not necessarily accompanied by doctrinal racism. This perspective, observed in France by Colette Guillaumin (1972, 1994) and by Véronique De Rudder, François Vourc’h and Christian Poiret (2000), prompts us to ask ourselves how urban forms, lifestyles, segregation processes, the political organisation of the city [6] and the relationships between city-dwellers express, pass on, shift, reinforce, or relax “racial” boundaries, in conjunction with the social relations of class and gender (Palomares and Testenoire 2010). These boundaries have dimensions that are both mental (ideologies, categorisations and representations) and material (inequalities, discrimination, segregation, violence) that here are explored together.

The study of the local urban management of minorities is a very good indicator of the spatial dimension of policies and attitudes regarding relations to the “other”, theorised by anthropologist Pierre‑Jean Simon (2006). [7] In the course of research in this connection, focusing on the relationships between the municipal council and local associations in a former “red” (communist) suburb of Paris in the early 2000s, I highlighted a process of ethnicisation of social relations and local policies, despite a French context where the use of ethnic categories is officially prohibited. With the end of the “working-class city”, the class struggle no longer plays a dominant role in the definition of collective and individual identities; ideals of solidarity and anti-racism subsequently occupy a central position in the construction of a new local identity local, that of the “global city”. This shift has been accompanied by a redefinition of immigration as “the public problem” at national and local level, lumping together “social issues”, “immigrants and their descendants” and the residential concentration of the latter in the “banlieues”.

Schematically speaking, two local examples of “strangers” have followed one another: the first concerned migrants from France’s (ex-)colonies, who became low-level workers in mainland France (with equal rights to avoid any competition with French workers), and European political exiles, who became comrades. The second emerged in the 1970s with the end of the “working-class city”; and is based on the promotion of an ethno-cultural definition of local belonging, in which “new” migrants are defined as bearers of “different cultures” from those of the native population. The production of local “nativeness” does not depend on the duration of residence: as it is linked to national identification, it reproduces the ambivalences of this identity and also has a very real administrative manifestation, the discriminatory effects of which can be seen in the way social housing is allocated and in policies that call for the demolition of temporary accommodation. In this movement, the process of minoritisation of migrants from former colonies and their offspring takes the form of a well-meaning collective concern: in the city studied, “Malians” have gradually been institutionalised as a group that poses a specific social problem because of a supposed cultural distance, requiring affirmative action to promote their “integration”.

Contrary to a commonly held view that local authorities are apparently now having to deal with a “new ethnic situation” linked to “non-European” migration, [8] this research shows that not only are institutions not “blind” to people’s origins, but they in fact perpetuate, or even produce, ethnic and “racial” categories on a day-to-day basis, through local policies that aim to manage unemployment or which support gentrification; in the allocation of housing; in community work; or in participatory measures (Palomares 2005, 2008; Palomares and Rabaud, 2006). Finally, while the racialisation of people designated as originating from sub-Saharan Africa appears to be particularly strong, the ethnic and “racial” boundaries that are emerging are not fixed: they evolve with the conflicts, alliances, resistance, reinterpretations and circumventions that come into play every day, both in the city and on the subject of the city, between elected officials, associations and party-political movements. For example, the position of “North Africans” has changed in this particular local context: while they might be the very embodiment of immigrants in neighbouring suburbs, their “ranking” is modified here as a result of the greater visibility of (sub-Saharan) “Africans”.

The tools and concepts forged over more than three decades of analysis of interethnic relations and international migration have therefore been spreading in recent years, and provide opportunities for research in the French urban sociology. These tools should enable researchers to revisit the traditional objects of the discipline, such as the relationships between landlords and tenants, residential trajectories, urban public spaces and the localised study of social classes, especially the upper middle classes. While discrimination in access to social housing is relatively well-documented, further work could be undertaken on access to privately rented housing. These observations – taken seriously in spite (or even by dint) of their sociological banality – do, however, imply rethinking the dominant theoretical and empirical approach to urban issues, by taking into account more effectively, and in a more coordinated manner, the spatial dimensions of gender relations, ethnic relations and class relations, all inextricably linked, which are the driving force of social differentiation and hierarchisation.


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