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The following is a cross-post from Becky at Becky not Becky.

Our oldest child is one year away from Kindergarten.  That statement is probably not as surreal for you as it is for me, but there it is.  My son is a pre-schooler in the literal sense of the term.  And for my husband and me, that means it’s time to evaluate our education options.

I am a big believer in public education.  I went to public schools, as did my husband, and while we had different experiences, we were both served pretty well when it came to the basics.  Both of us had opportunities to explore our interests in and out of the classroom.  Both of us had encounters with loving adults (and some not-so-loving ones) who in one way or another helped to direct the course of our lives.  We support public education, and we are proud to say that next year, our boy will be beginning his formal education at a neighborhood elementary school.

But as happy as I am about our decision, I’m sad to say that it was a forced one.  You see, while friends of ours are looking intensely at three different but equally weighted options, we were ruling out homeschooling and private schooling as possibilities.  We’ve known since our kids were born they’d most likely be public-school bound.  And recently, I’ve become frustrated and jealous reading about the wonderful experiences of moms who homeschool.  I’ve felt scorn for those who send their kids off to Christian schools, where they will learn at the feet of teachers who profess and confess a love for Jesus Christ.  I’ve felt this way because I want those choices, too.  But the biggest source of aggravation is knowing that I can have them, and I don’t.

Several years ago, long before we had kids, my husband and I decided that whatever our own biological capabilities, we were going to pursue adoption at some point in our marriage.  We’d had friends who went through infertility and turned to adoption after failed attempts to build their family on their own.  We’d had friends who adopted internationally, transracially, and locally: some through fostering first, some with specificity that they wanted a certain kind of baby.   Given the wide range of experiences being open to adoption can bring, and given that any number of those options could make our lily white family less monochromatic, we began to evaluate our church, our community, and our lives for diversity.

We were found wanting.  We went to a white church.  I taught, for the most part, in a white school.  We had white friends.  If we were going to open our lives for an adopted child, we’d have to radically change the spectrum of influences and relationships we had in order for that child to feel at home and free to explore their own identity in a safe context.  But then, in reading more about race, racism and racial identity development, we discovered something we’d never considered.  What does all this homogeneity mean for our biological white children?

What experience were we giving them raising them in such an isolated context?  Thankfully, through very little work on our own part, the Lord moved us to an area where no matter where we chose to live, we’d be making a choice for diversity.  We visited churches and prayed about where to attend and in every case, we made racial diversity a factor.  Our current church is developing satellite campuses, and in the last few years, this has helped to broaden the membership beyond the occasional inter-racial couple, and our satellite is reaching out to communities of color and reflecting all these changes in staff hiring. I’m still not sure if these moves are intentional on the part of our church leadership (though we have one elder pushing hard for it), but God is moving our church in a direction that we feel is consistent with our family’s values.

So our white kids are living in a neighborhood where they are in the minority.  They are attending a church where their race is representative of the majority, but those proportions are swiftly tilting to reflect our community.  But now we have this school issue.

As I’ve looked into homeschooling, I’ve been discouraged by the numbers.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, 76.8% of homeschoolers were white.  Many proponents of homeschool say that their kids have plenty of social and athletic opportunities through homeschooling groups and leagues, but they never tell you that those opportunities are as segregated as the statistics show.  While I’ve been able to find some blogs or groups of parents of color homeschooling their children, these are vastly outnumbered by the white mommy blogs on the subject.  And, honestly, I’m equally disappointed looking at curriculum options.  The traditional religious curricula I’ve seen are as problematic, if not more so than, the generally monochromatic public school curricula for literature, history, and the social sciences.

Private Christian schooling is also disappointing.  I know from experience as a teacher in a Christian school that often the curriculum ignores race, and omits important authors of color or literature from anything other than a white-male canon. History can be anyone’s best guess, and in a conservative evangelical school, can be filled with reverence for the Founders and ignorance of the oppression of and contributions by Native Americans, African Americans, or immigrants.

Last year at MOPS, we had a panel of professional women each representing public, private Christian and homeschooling options.  During the discussion on private schooling, one white mom stood up and shared that her husband was black and her child was biracial.  She was concerned that in a Christian school, her child would be the only person of color in the class, perhaps in the grade.  The white teacher on the panel said she had the same concerns for the exact same reason: her son was biracial.  She said the lack of diversity was the only thing that gave her pause about enrolling her son in the school where she taught.  She added that her son participated in county sports, not school athletics, in order to feel connected to different types of kids and families and that her family was constantly looking for ways to offset his school experience.

I felt for both those moms.  And I wondered why the other moms of white kids weren’t likewise concerned.  I’ve thought about the idea of “offsetting” a whites-only education with other experiences, but all of it feels like compromising an important value for our family.  I don’t want my kids to grow up without a teacher who is a person of color.  I don’t want my kids only having sleepovers, birthday parties or field trips with an all-white class (even if that class consists of me and their siblings).

So, we’re left with public school.  And we’re glad to have it.  Our local elementary school is only 29% white.  The majority of the school is Latino, then black, then white, then Asian.  It’s a good school and the teachers work toward cultural and linguistic competency so that they can best serve students and their families.   Also, the principal is a woman of color.

I know my lament is one of privilege.  I could easily choose to homeschool or send our son to private school.  We have the means and the opportunity.  But for us, the choice is not easy.  It’s hard because our values on this tell us those doors are shut by the same forces that kept schools segregated in the past: a compulsion to commit to the status quo and the ability of white people, in particular, to be completely comfortable and at-home only in contexts where they are in the majority.

If any anti-racist out there has found a way to make homeschooling or Christian-schooling work for their kids, I’d love to be wrong about this.  Until then, I’m a little frightened that I’m right and that it’s our organized Christian culture that’s wrong.

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The following is a re-blog from Claudia over at My fascinating life.  Claudia is an Aussie mom living in the UK who adopted Ethopian children.   She’s testament to the fact that if you provide us with insightful commentary on our posts, we might go over to your blog and find things we’d like to bring home with us.

I’ve made a decision – the next person to ask me whether I need to put suncream on the babies is getting a punch in the mouth. I’m not quite sure why this is every white person’s ‘go-to’ question about raising black children, but that seems to be the case. Like if they suddenly found themselves in my shoes, it wouldn’t matter if the child grew up totally unsure about their identity, where to fit in, lacking any positive black role models and looking down the barrel of casual racism every day; that would be fine, but heaven forfend the baby should get sunburned.

I know I’m overreacting about that particular question, and if anybody I know in real life is reading this then they are definitely going to be offended, because I’m pretty sure that every single white person I know has asked me this question since the sun came out here, about two weeks ago. And I do take sun safety very seriously. And on one level, it’s fine that people ask me this. It’s sunny, we’re at the park, they’re slapping the suncream on their kids, it’s a reasonable question. And I prefer curiosity to someone saying ‘oh, seriously, your child isn’t white? I didn’t notice! Because we’re all the same on the inside!’ But sometimes, this question, and others like it, (‘what do you do with their hair?‘) can make me feel really uncomfortable, and I don’t quite know what to do.

I think I’ve almost figured out how to deal with conversations that are openly racist, or, more commonly, just plain ignorant. No matter who, no matter where, don’t let it slide, ever. Challenge. Disagree. Not just when it’s a conversation about people who share the same colour skin as my children, but anything racist, all the time. Zero tolerance. There’s a lot of stuff that I used to let slip by me, but now – no way. I’m acutely aware that many adult adoptees say their parents weren’t active enough as their anti-racist advocates, particularly with extended family, and those of us who have had the opportunity to learn from their experience have NO excuse if the same is said about us.

But I find this kind of thing much harder. It’s not a racist question. It’s not even a particularly stupid question. But it makes me prickle. I think that what upsets me is this. I get the distinct impression that some of my white friends ask me questions about my black babies that they would never ask if I was a black mother. Or at least, ask them in a way that they wouldn’t ask a black mother. This is difficult to articulate, but I feel like there is an unspoken assumption that we belong to the same club, they and I, a club to which my children do not belong. And that our sameness means that it’s okay – indeed, expected – for us to share information and experiences about our encounters with those who are not the same. Even, in my case, if those who aren’t the same are also my children. We all know that the first rule of White Club is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT WHITE CLUB, so none of this would ever be said out loud. But honestly, in some conversations it is palpable.

It feels similar to what I experienced when I moved to the UK from Australia. When I came across other Australians, we would always form a huddle and complain about the same things – usually the price of food, how cold it was, how long it was since we’d seen the sun and the impossibility of really getting to know anyone properly. Then we would tell stories about Rude English People I Have Met, and What They Said To Me. It was comforting. But time went on, and something changed. I began to feel at home here. I worked out how to navigate the supermarket, bought a decent coat, resigned myself to a lifetime of Seasonal Affective Disorder and made some friends. My accent was Australian (and it still is) but I didn’t feel quite so partisan anymore. I began to feel that at least part of me was becoming British. And then the moaning sessions weren’t quite so welcome. When people would hear my voice, and then want to talk about what was wrong with the UK, I kept finding myself thinking ‘what makes you think I’m on YOUR side in this conversation?’

And that’s how I keep feeling now. White people see my skin, and I think it makes them think that I’m on their side. I’m not going to go down the ‘now that I have Ethiopian children, I consider myself to be Ethiopian too’, road, because I think that’s a pile of horse manure. I’m still white, I’ll always be white, and there’s nothing I can do about that. But that doesn’t mean I’m on their side.

It does feel, sometimes, like people view my children as educational toys. They’re a safe, easy way to learn about black people. You know, without actually having to talk to a black person. And I get frustrated, because my children are not a bridge. They do not have a responsibility to my friends to link all the colours of the world into a complacent little circle. And they are not objects; curiosities to be examined. They are their own selves, with their own complicated histories, and neither they nor I owe my friends any information about their skincare regime. I think that sometimes people are wanting some kind of inside scoop – for me to go into detail about how hard it is to care for such ‘difficult’ hair or skin, but it’s just not going to happen. They aren’t entitled to that information, even if it was the case. I am not on their side.

But sometimes it’s a hard balance. Because sometimes I ask myself – are these the opportunities I’ve been waiting for? Is the problem not too many questions about their skin, but too few? I think most of us can agree that a fake-o ‘colourblind’ approach to life doesn’t do our children any favours. And I wish that I could have more frank discussions with my white friends about race, not fewer. But I want them to be real. Surely the really important issues around skin are privilege and prejudice, not, well, skin. I want to talk about how we approach our own whiteness, before talking about anybody else’s blackness. I don’t really know how those conversations would sound, but I’m sure they wouldn’t just be about sun safety or hair products. I hate that I am still so bad at making those conversations happen.

So, back to the sun cream. Mostly, when sun cream comes up, I say ‘Well! The babies take longer to burn than a very pale baby, but they will still burn. I do put sun cream on them, but we don’t need it if they’re only going to be outside for a little while. We have suncream that smells like coconut. Doesn’t their skin smell delicious? What type of suncream do YOU use?’ And questions about hair get ‘isn’t their hair BEAUTIFUL? I just can’t wait until her hair is long enough to braid. Do you think your little Susie’s hair is going to stay blonde?’ And none of this is going to set the world on fire, and sometimes I wish I could have the courage to be a lot ruder, but for now, for questions that aren’t outright impolite, I’ve decided to stick with simple answers that affirm my children and then move swiftly on.

All of this feels almost impossible to write about, because I’m so painfully aware of how little I know. And maybe my approach is wrong – maybe I’m reading too much into comments that are totally innocent, or maybe the reverse is happening and I’m ignoring something really big, and I should be… well, I don’t know. And of course some of my friends don’t do anything like this, and I need to remember that I never used to care about race until I realised that it was going to affect my family. So I’d better not climb too high onto my high horse, or I’m liable to fall off. This is all really hard. I know I’m making mistakes. I hope I’ll be willing to learn from them. But whatever happens, I hope the babies always know that I am on their side.

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We’ve mentioned Kenneth & Mamie Clark’s famous “doll tests” a few times here on the blog, e.g. in Cayce’s “Reversing Racism” post and my post about the movie “Good Hair” and internalized prejudice.

Anderson Cooper recently revisited the Clarks’ doll tests on his CNN news show. For those of you who missed it, here it is. (I know the numbering looks out-of-order, but this ordering made more sense to me.)

Note to white parents: Your kids are not growing up “colorblind” and if you want to help them overcome racial prejudice you’ll need to have explicit conversations with them about racial attitudes and interracial relationships.

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I posted most of this as a response to Nikki’s recent post on transracial adoption; it was suggested that it would make a good followup post, so, here it is.

I think it can be tempting for potential adoptive parents to personalize critiques of transracial adoption, and this can make it difficult to hear what people who have concerns about transracial adoption are actually saying. This isn’t about questioning specific potential parents’ committment to equally love an adopted child of whatever race, or about weighing their parental skills. It’s about calling people to be the best parents they can possibly be to their children – something that doesn’t come easily to biological parents, or parents who adopt children within their race or ethnicity, either. People don’t always realize that parents of color aren’t automatically great at teaching their children an age-appropriate awareness of racism or teaching them to be proud of their identity.

As an example – I was raised by my biological parents, who emigrated from Nigeria to the U.S. when my siblings and I ranged in age from 3 to 8 years old. My parents had very little notion of the history of racism and race relations in the U.S.; now I realize that their understanding of race in America was only slightly more sophisticated than mine, if at all (i.e., that there used to be issues with racism, but that was all a long time ago, and now everything was more or less fine, with the exception of your occasional KKK member).

I don’t remember my parents ever initiating conversations about race with us, and whenever I did ask questions about race the answers I got were that 1) if we worked hard and kept out of trouble, no one would have a problem with us, and 2) people who complained about racism were either bitter and unforgiving, or they were using it as an excuse for their laziness. I don’t know that these things were said in so many words, but that was the definite impression I got from my parents. On top of all that, my parents had attitudes towards African Americans (as opposed to Africans) that were frankly pretty racist, and I grew up in predominantly white conservative churches that had serious issues with white privilege, classism, and racism. I internalized a lot of those attitudes.

All that to say, I have black parents, and I was completely unprepared for what it means to be black and a woman in this country.  I internalized harmful stereotypes and beliefs about what it meant to have black skin in America, and I struggled with self-hatred and prejudice against African Americans because of this.

Part of that is because my parents are immigrants, and they were getting an education on race in America along with their children.  They couldn’t teach me what it meant to be black in America because they themselves didn’t know.  If you talk to them today, their views on race and racism are very different than what they communicated to us even just a few years ago.

In any event, I’ve had to grapple with race and racism largely on my own, and carve out my own identity as a black American woman and as a member of the African diaspora, and all that is still a work in progress.  And I have to figure out how to help my biracial, black, American daughter make sense of these questions for herself, and sort through her own experiences of race and racism, which will be similar but also quite different from mine – all while I’m still working on understanding them myself. That’s not easy. But it would be a mistake to just not try because it would be difficult.

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As mentioned in an update to our previous post on the Prescott Mural controversy, after local protests, the Prescott school district has withdrawn their request that the mural be lightened, and both the school’s principal and the Prescott district school superintendent have publicly apologized for asking that the faces of the children be lightened (video below).  I loved that their apologies were clear and to the point, and didn’t involve any excuses, blame-shifting, or minimizing – just simple statements of “We made a mistake” and “we’re sorry.”  How often do we hear apologies like that from public officials anymore, not least about racially charged issues?  Kudos to them for being to admit a mistake and taking steps to correct it.  And kudos to the residents of Prescott who stood up against racism in their city! (h/t Huffington Post)

Meanwhile, Steve Blair’s comments (transcript here) about the mural have led to significant public criticism, his ouster from his show on a local radio station, and calls for him to resign from his position as a city councilman.  Unfortunately, Councilman Blair has responded to the criticism of his comments not by taking some time to think about why they were offensive, but by repeating a number of his most problematic comments, taking the opportunity to make even more racist and privileged criticisms of the mural, and painting himself as a victim who was just trying to defend his city and “stand up for what’s right.”  Because, y’all, complaining about the prominent featuring of a child of color on a mural is a matter of moral integrity.  Take, for example, Blair’s defense of himself in an interview with the Prescott eNews (below, h/t Reappropriate), or his statement to the press on the controversy (video here).

Blair’s view is that he was fired simply for “asking a question.”  The closest he comes to making any apology for his comments is that “the question probably was poorly worded, and in retrospect, I also admit that it was probably offensive to some,” and that he “made assumptions and then . . . took an unfounded leap of logic” that the mural was supposed to be “factual, [functional, and] representative of the community here in Prescott, AZ.  And being a number cruncher in my business, I automatically assumed that the larger figure equated to the larger number of the demographics.”  Huh?  Not only is that a seriously weak sauce apology, it doesn’t even make sense.  Would Blair really have us believe that he thinks public art depicting people is necessarily some sort of statistical representation of a city’s population?

It gets stranger:

“The mural is a big change for a historic red brick building so many of enjoy [sic] over the years.  That, along with the scale of the boy central to the art, is startling at first blush.  That was my mistake.  Instead of jumping to conclusions, before I made the comments about the mural at all, I should have come down to speak with the artists, find out for myself what the mural meant, and what it was all about, because I still don’t believe the community knows what it was all about.  For the record, nobody has come to me once to say, “hey Steve, let us explain the mural to you, and what it means, what the designer and the artist intended.”  That might have helped educate me in what I obviously needed to know to help prevent such notoriety that we’ve had in this community.  Instead, others have made assumptions, and jumped to conclusions on their own.  They assume because they asked the question, that I was a racist and bigot.”

That right there is a mess of white privilege.  Blair assumes not only that his startled and confused reaction (to put it nicely) to the mural should be validated and taken seriously, but also that it’s the job of other people to educate him about what the mural means – including what it “means” to have a child of color prominently featured on the mural – and why he shouldn’t disapprove of it (“I want somebody to tell me why I should like that.  That’s what I want somebody to tell me.  Why should I like that?”).  He assumes that because he doesn’t know what the mural’s message is, neither does the “community,” and that because he wasn’t involved in the process of approving the mural design, neither was the “community.”  One has to wonder whether for him, the “community” means the white residents of Prescott who also “can’t stand” the word “diversity.”

As Reappropriate points out, as a city councilman, Blair should have been involved in, or at least aware of, council votes to approve other eco-themed mural designs by the same committee of artists, so his complaint that decisions were made without the approval or knowledge of the “community” rings hollow.  And if he was truly in the dark about the mission behind the murals, one would think a city councilman could at least pick up his local newspaper and educate himself about it.

The bottom line is, Blair and other residents of Prescott, objected to the presence of a child of color as the central figure in piece of public art, because of the (perceived) race of that child.  That’s racist.  And as for questioning why ethnic minorities should ever be depicted in public art?  That’s privilege.

Councilman Blair, you may not be a racist or a bigot.  But when you demand an explanation for why a person of color should be prominently featured in public art and and imply that depictions of POC should be completely absent from public art, what you say sounds racist.

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photo credit: Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier

Update Via HuffPo: The Prescott school district has withdrawn their request that the mural at Miller Valley Elementary School be lightened; it will be restored to its original design and colors.  What’s more, Jeff Lane, the principal of Miller Lane Elementary School, and Kevin Kapp, the Prescott district school superintendent, have publicly apologized for asking that the faces of the children be lightened.  I’ll be posting more about this later.

Original post: More unsettling news out of Arizona: A mural prominently depicting Latino and African-American local schoolchildren has become a target of racist backlash in Prescott, AZ.  The artists and local residents involved in creating the mural at Miller Valley Elementary have faced heckling and racial slurs from passing drivers:

“We consistently, for two months, had people shouting racial slander from their cars,” Wall said. “We had children painting with us, and here come these yells of (epithet for Blacks) and (epithet for Hispanics).”  (AZ Central)

And:

Wall reports hearing comments such as “You’re desecrating our school,” “Get the ni—– off the wall,” and “Get the sp– off the wall.” (Daily Courier)

Meanwhile, Prescott City councilman Steve Blair has been using his radio show to stoke racial animus over the mural, calling it “pathetic” and shameful, and accusing the mural creators of “[changing] the ambience of that building to excite some kind of diversity power struggle that doesn’t exist in Prescott, Arizona.”  Blair has further questioned why the largest figure in the mural is African-American (the student depicted is actually Hispanic, but why let facts get in the way) and has suggested that this decision was “based upon who’s president of the United States today.”  He has also complained that the mural doesn’t represent Prescott, that “the focus doesn’t need to be on what’s different . . . [and] on the minority all the time,” and that the mural is “forcing diversity down [Prescott residents’] throats.”  But perhaps my favorite comment from Blair is this delicious bit of irony:  “I’m not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it’s a word I can’t stand.”  Indeed.

The comments on local coverage of this controversy (see links above) are a sad confirmation that Blair is not alone in his sentiments.  The mural has been described by some Prescott residents as “ghetto,” “graffiti,” “tacky,” “propaganda,” and – heaven forbid! – “politically correct.”  A number of commenters have complained that the mural just “doesn’t fit” in Prescott, that it “does a very poor job of depicting the flavor” of the city, and that it doesn’t accurately represent the predominantly white city.  A choice example:

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (but maybe it does for those of you who don’t understand Blair’s point) to know that if you have one Chinese restaurant in a town and you want to paint a mural reflecting the town’s profile, you don’t paint a bunch of Chinese kids. Before you start spewing your hate, get your facts straight. It is multiculturalism that is beginning to destroy this country…E pluribus unum. Don’t know what that means? Google it. It’s our country’s motto.

You heard it here first, folks.  Apparently public art has to precisely reflect a town’s demographics.  You know, ’cause statistical accuracy is what art is all about.  Never mind that the mural depicts actual residents of Prescott (elementary school children!  Poor kids), and never mind that the mural design was voted on by students and faculty at the school.

Now Jeff Lane, the principal of Miller Valley Elementary, has asked the artists to “lighten” the skin of the students depicted so they look “happier and brighter” and as though they are “coming into light.”  The mural director says this request is a response to the controversy, but naturally, the principal claims the request stemmed from “artistic” concerns, and has “nothing do with race.”

According to Lane, the committee wanted the artists to “make them look happier and more excited, fix the scale of the faces and remove some shadowing that made the faces darker than they are.” (Daily Courier)

Oooook then.

With the disclaimer that many white Prescott residents are supportive of the mural and abhor Blair’s comments and the hateful sentiments directed at the artists and volunteers – this response to the mural is both a textbook example of white privilege at work, and an indicator of heightened racial fear and animus among some white Americans since the election of our first African-American president.  White privilege is at the root of assumptions that depicting or focusing on white people is normal, while doing the same for people of color is a decision that should automatically be questioned or challenged.  White privilege is at the root of assumptions that depicting anyone other than a white person as a central figure is “propaganda.”    White privilege is at the root of complaints that the mural doesn’t “fit” Prescott, simply because it prominently features people of color – despite the fact that it depicts very real residents of Prescott, and that residents of Prescott voted and and created the design for the mural.  It is white privilege that assumes that white residents are more qualified or entitled than POC residents to judge what kind of representations “fit” their town.  (Side note: If a mere painting of POC is so out of place in Prescott, I can’t help but wonder how well living, breathing non-white residents of Prescott feel they fit in their own city).  And it’s white privilege that dismisses depictions of people of color with racist, classist terms like “ghetto,” and “graffiti,” and implies that such depictions are somehow less artistic or appropriate than representations of white or lighter-skinned people.

Similarly, the response to the mural points to growing fears among some white Americans about the changing racial landscape of the country, fears stoked primarily by the election of President Obama.  It’s not surprising that Blair so quickly moved from his erroneous conclusion that the central figure of the mural was African-American boy  to the assumption that this figure represented Obama in some way.  It’s not surprising that Blair interpreted the design of the mural as putting an over-emphasis on the “different” and on minorities, and that he saw this as having larger political implications.  Blair’s comments are just one example among many of white fears that minority success – and in this case, simply depicting a minority – must come at the expense of the majority.  These fears are also symptoms of white privilege.  How else can we explain the otherwise crazypants idea that merely having to look at a representation of a person of color is a challenge or offense to white people, and a provocation to a racial “power struggle?” How else can we explain why some white people feel that having to share attention, resources, or power with people of color strips them of power?

More on this at: Reappropriate.

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