Mark Lilla’s “The End Of Identity Liberalism” Is The Whitest Thing I’ve Ever Read » VSB

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Mark Lilla’s “The End Of Identity Liberalism” Is The Whitest Thing I’ve Ever Read



A predictable but still fascinating byproduct of the election is the emergence of a new sub-genre of discourse and literature solely comprised of White people attempting to explain Trump’s win without saying the words “race” or “racism.” Its almost as if they’re engaged in some sort of devolved, pre-racial game of Taboo.

Quick, explain what happened in Ohio and Wisconsin, but don’t use the words ‘angry White people,’ ‘Obama,’ or ‘fried chicken.’ You have 60 seconds! Go!

And, just like with any other genre, occasionally you have some who exist within the form but subvert it by eschewing its rules and inventing their own. Andy Kaufman. Gertrude Stein. Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The McRib.

Mark Lilla, a professor of the humanities at Columbia and a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, now belongs on that list.

His “The End of Identity Liberalism” — published last week in the New York Times — is avant garde White obliviousness. He is the Pablo Picasso of performative sobriety. The Frank Lloyd Wright of Whitesplaining.

To wit, instead of ignoring the role race and racism played in this election — as many of his colleagues have — Lilla decided to confront it head on. And, he didn’t just stop there. Lilla added some intersectionality to his fuckshit punch, discussing the roles gender, sexuality, and religious differences also played here. But (and this is where Lilla’s genius exists) instead of just acknowledging that White fear about impending diversity is what swung the election, he acknowledges it…and then blames the diversity. Its ultimately our fault. And “our” in this context is “literally anyone who isn’t a protestant White male.”

He states the premise of his piece in the second paragraph.

In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.

Ultimately, what he’s saying is that liberals failed by putting an emphasis on an acknowledgement and celebration of our differences instead of our similarities. The rest of his piece provides evidence of this assertion.

But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.

Note the phrase “the rhetoric of diversity.” I’ll come back to that later.

But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life

This is not particularly untrue. We (Americans) don’t just exist in our own bubbles. We’re often bubble-wrapped too. But this particular type of narcissism is pervasive and not limited to progressives. It exists in Manhattan and Montana. But it exists for a very real reason. Which I’ll get to later. (I promise!)

At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part this is because of high school history curriculums, which anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country. (The achievements of women’s rights movements, for instance, were real and important, but you cannot understand them if you do not first understand the founding fathers’ achievement in establishing a system of government based on the guarantee of rights.)

This is peak Whitesplain. The entire paragraph belongs on Whiteplain Mount Rushmore. Instead of learning about history with a context that actually attempts to make it more nuanced, complex, and honest, Lilla implies that the less context, the better. This is the type of thinking that would keep Thomas Jefferson’s slaveowning (and slave children) out of lessons about him, because it would make things unnecessarily complex and distract students from the other really super duper important things he did.

When young people arrive at college they are encouraged to keep this focus on themselves by student groups, faculty members and also administrators whose full-time job is to deal with — and heighten the significance of — “diversity issues.” Fox News and other conservative media outlets make great sport of mocking the “campus craziness” that surrounds such issues, and more often than not they are right to.

Again, note how “diversity issues” is in sarcastic scare quotes. Mark Lilla really hates diversity. It’s like Lilla and Diversity were dating, and Diversity texted “be right back” to him and never texted him back again. And now Mark Lilla hates her.

This campus-diversity consciousness has over the years filtered into the liberal media, and not subtly. Affirmative action for women and minorities at America’s newspapers and broadcasters has been an extraordinary social achievement — and has even changed, quite literally, the face of right-wing media, as journalists like Megyn Kelly and Laura Ingraham have gained prominence. But it also appears to have encouraged the assumption, especially among younger journalists and editors, that simply by focusing on identity they have done their jobs.

Also, note the use and placement of “but” here. He starts the paragraph with a laud of the positive impacts of diversity, but then inserts the “but” towards the end to basically say “but it’s all bullshit.

Recently I performed a little experiment during a sabbatical in France: For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones.

Shut the fuck up.

My thought was to try seeing the world as European readers did. But it was far more instructive to return home and realize how the lens of identity has transformed American reporting in recent years. How often, for example, the laziest story in American journalism — about the “first X to do Y” — is told and retold. Fascination with the identity drama has even affected foreign reporting, which is in distressingly short supply.

No, seriously. Shut the fuck up, man.

However interesting it may be to read, say, about the fate of transgender people in Egypt, it contributes nothing to educating Americans about the powerful political and religious currents that will determine Egypt’s future, and indirectly, our own. No major news outlet in Europe would think of adopting such a focus.


But it is at the level of electoral politics that identity liberalism has failed most spectacularly, as we have just seen. National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. Ronald Reagan did that very skillfully, whatever one may think of his vision. So did Bill Clinton, who took a page from Reagan’s playbook. He seized the Democratic Party away from its identity-conscious wing, concentrated his energies on domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance) and defined America’s role in the post-1989 world. By remaining in office for two terms, he was then able to accomplish much for different groups in the Democratic coalition. Identity politics, by contrast, is largely expressive, not persuasive. Which is why it never wins elections — but can lose them.

The point of this entire paragraph — this entire piece, really — can be found in the third sentence here. (“And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny.”) Thing is, Lilla isn’t talking about “Americans.” He’s talking about White Americans. White American men, specifically. Whoever can capture their imaginations the best will win.

The media’s newfound, almost anthropological, interest in the angry white male reveals as much about the state of our liberalism as it does about this much maligned, and previously ignored, figure. A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns.

You know what else can be convenient? The truth. The truth is convenient as a motherfucker. And the “Whitelash” thesis is a true one. This really happened. And it’s really happening.

I’m not going to continue to quote from the piece, because he continues saying different versions of the same thing for the next 500 or so words. Instead, lets examine the “rhetoric of diversity.”

The wrongness of Lilla’s premise is centered in a very specific type of White male myopia that, because he’s an academic, he believes himself immune to. Although he rails against “the bubble,” he’s a product of it. The concept of “diversity” — of wanting it recognized, acknowledged, and appreciated — isn’t just some sort of classroom rhetoric or academic thought exercise. The recognition of and sensitivity to it is vital because it literally saves lives. For the tens of millions of historically marginalized Americans, this isn’t about being right or wrong. It’s about safety. It’s about being able to relax and exhale in our own home. It’s about a pursuit of the most basic human need; one that, for as long as America has existed, has been beyond our grasp. We’re not upset about the election because “our team” lost. We’re upset because this incoming administration — through both their campaign and the decisions made since the election — has promised to provide us with pain. Yet, he fails to grasp that, and distills and limits this entire concept to a high-minded, academic context. Ultimately ignoring that the fight to be recognized as full citizens has been and will continue to be a bloody one.

Diversity isn’t why the liberals lost. It’s because of bubble-wrapped White men like Mark Lilla.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • mr. steal your costco samples

    it’s not Lilla’s fault that y’all niqqas continually persist in existing. give the man a break.

    • Kas

      And over the next 4 years we will see the Democratic party pivot to win back “overt” racist white males and their families. POC and LBGT should be prepared to move to the back of the bus.

      • mr. steal your costco samples

        where’s the pivot? I mean, they won by 2 million votes, and I believe there’ll be a new census in 2020 that beefs up the coast’s EVs.

        I think the pivot is to Bernie – style outright populism and “ignoring” race, which is not great, Bob, but I don’t think it’ll be as malicious as I think you’re implying

        • Kas

          Okie, dokie (that is the technical term by the way).

      • Question

        Haven’t we always been at the back of the bus? Why are we kidding ourselves like Black issues have ever been front and center? They’re cared about up to and until someone gets elected, and then they disappear….and we let that happen.

        This isn’t directed at you, but I’m not interested in the “victim” argument. Like we KNOW that we are getting shoved to the back of the bus. What are we going to do about it? What CAN we do about it??

        • !!!!!!!

        • Kas

          No victim argument from me, just saying how I think it’s going to go, especially if we don’t hold their feet to the fire.

  • Janelle Doe

    Srs q Damon: When is it never our fault?

  • HouseOfBonnets

    White people on both sides have been off the chain for the last two weeks,at this point they get automatic side eye off GP.

  • TeeChantel

    Only a privileged heterosexual white male would speak from this perspective.

  • Colby

    So basically what he’s saying is we shouldn’t place too much emphasis on our differences, because others (white people) will feel left out?.

  • This use of “identity politics” as a pejorative is abhorrent. Because the very same individuals who want to end “identity politics” are the very same folks (i.e. white men) who basically used/are using their own identity to try and force the rest of us marginalized groups to sit down and shut up. Fuck them. Fuck them eight ways to Sunday.

    I’ve seen a lot of this sentiment online about liberals and millenials—words that has needlessly become a pejorative—needing to stop whining because Hillary lost. Again, this isn’t about mere wins and losses; as Damon put it above, this is a much larger issue that is about one of the basic things that, if you believe in Maslow, we need: Safety.

    • Yahmo Bethere

      Identity was baked into the Articles. They blame us for dancing to their tune.

  • miss t-lee

    Kinda reminds me of the skit that SNL did over the weekend.

    • TeeChantel

      SNL has really been ON point these last few weeks.

      • miss t-lee


      • Kylroy

        Meanwhile The Mary Sue has been going off about them being transphobic. So the circular firing squad is in full force.

      • Cleojonz

        They always shine election times.

    • Yep. This skit reminds me why I haven’t been on twitter in about 10 day or so. This one combined with Dave and Chris at the election watch party are to real to not be funny.

      • miss t-lee

        Very, very real.
        I gotta try to laugh though. Gonna be a long azz 4 years.

      • miss t-lee

        Oh yeah, I saw ya girl Nimrata is headed up north eh?

        • Yeah. I’m actually disappointed in her but not shocked.

          • miss t-lee

            Nothing’s shocking about this sitch.

  • LadiDD

    This is just as dumb as the “economic anxiety” argument that white liberals use to explain away white people’s racism

  • rexrexroth

    As a white male, I believe we need a national MONOLOGUE on race.

    As in, white people STFU and listen. And listen. And listen some more. Then when we white people are tempted to talk – we listen more.

    • We’ve been talking to y’all since 1865. When are you going to start behaving differently for us? Exiling your uncle who, no matter what, never changes his views? Call out your bosses for having no minorities at the C-Level? Question why y’all live in all white communities and all white schools and force your housing authorities and school boards to change their practices?

      I’m not saying this to be glib or mean. You’re posting here, which means you care to some extent. But we’ve got evidence of 150 years that talk is cheap.

      • rexrexroth

        First, please forgive my posting here. I was linked to this specific article from FB and wasn’t sensitive enough to my presence here. Truly, please forgive me that.

        As to your response, what you say is completely, brutally and painfully true.

        • No- VSB is an inclusive site! We want you here- come and we’ll make you a plate and give you your choice of brown liquor!

          • rexrexroth

            Thank you for your kindness. I appreciate it very much.

          • Who making plays plates? ?

            VSB is for us.. they have to work for a seat at the table.

            • Scorpiogoddess??


            • Mary

              Word. Why turn this into changing up to placate white sensibilities. E entiay they’ll want to take over anyway.

            • Mochasister

              Exactly. Like they don’t have everything already.

              • I am completely over us trying to constantly make friends… we don’t have to be inclusive… where has it gotten us? I know I hit nerve because that Rex character thanked everybody who included him but when I called that ayus mat.. crickets.. just like I thought.

                • Mochasister

                  I keep it polite and superficial and call it a day. Works like a charm.

                • Mochasister

                  One thing that I have noticed about them is they seem to get agitated when people talk about putting them to the side and leaving them alone. They don’t like being excluded or ignored. For some reason that bothers a lot of them. They want to be a part of every other culture, but on their terms. They have “rights” to other cultures. In some ways they remind me of that abusive husband/boyfriend that constantly berates the women by telling her she’s nothing. But when she gets ready to leave him he’s ready to kill her. Why? I thought she was nothing. You should be glad she’s leaving so you can find a woman who is worthy of you.

          • Deirdre Mullen

            I have read many of these comments that seem to be saying t white people TODAY deserve ill-treatment because of the historical oppression of blacks. How can anyone place the sins of the past onto the shoulders of other whites when they weren’t even born at the time? What many people here seem to be saying is that all white people should be prepared to accept responsibility for past injustices. So the beatings and murders that blacks administer to whites are deserved? It’s wrong for young black men to be shot by white and black police, but at least they were in the middle of crimes in most cases. One CAN say that things get out of hand when resisting arrest. How is that the same as black revenge killings on innocent people today?

            Blacks didn’t suffer discrimination for “400 years” by the way, see the books by recently deceased Wesleyan History teacher Dr. Tony Martin – who has written number of books on slavery and the slave trade. Only 1.5% of white people ever owned slaves in this country – most whites could never afford it and resented that slavery lowered their wages. They also hated being forced to join the posse of the wealthy slave owners going out in the middle of the night to hunt down slaves who ran away. Not all white people were rubbing their hands together cackling with evil laughter that they could lynch some black guys. Otherwise these white men wouldn’t have killed hundreds of thousands of each other in a fratricidal war over the confederacy, which included slavery but was not fought on behalf of it. As for the slave trade, it was actually conducted almost exclusively by Portuguese Jews who were so entrenched that slave auctions weren’t held on Saturdays because none of the owners or factors could be present, as it was the Jewish Sabbath. The first synagogue built in North America was built in RI using money from slavery. Additionally, whites in poverty on the streets of Europe were taken (kid-nabbed) and just thrown into ships for the New World. They just weren’t as plentiful nor could they withstand the hot sun as well as the Africans could. The whites never lasted more than 7 years in most cases, their young age, malnutrition, and poor treatment usually just killed them off anyway. The black slaves, on the other hand, were treated a bit better since they were considered, like cattle, to be an investment. Not much better, though, except for the indoor house slaves. The field slaves were also given food that was most certainly not good but enough to keep them in working states.

            All societies conducted themselves no different from whites. All societies, races, social, cultural groups including all indigenous people indulged in the evils of conquering and enslavement. All societies went to war and punished their captives, some worse than others. Mass graves of group

          • Deirdre Mullen

            LOL, I saw that invitation and couldn’t help it! Where’s my plate of goodies?

        • Courtney Wheeler

          It’s okay. I appreciate what you have and that is a sense of empathy of the situation. A lot of white people have good intentions and realize that what’s going on isn’t right but some feel paralyzed in what to do…and that’s the problem. People don’t usually act upon something if they were never truly affected by the actions.
          Also I think a lot of older whites(baby boomers) have the attitude of “well I was a hippie once…i marched with ya’ll, I did my part.” and just got comfortable with Reganomic-thinking.

    • Yall have listened and talked and been “outraged” and have come to our spaces to say that meaningless, useless bs…

      Yall wanna do something for real? STEP IN AND ACT when you see cops pull their guns on us or whooping our ayuses… STEP IN at Starbucks when a racist pops off or at Walmart when somebody rips a hijab off… if y’all aren’t willing to do that, which is the bare minimum btw, STOP TALKING TO US.

      • Scorpiogoddess??

        I don’t think more needs to be said. Talk is cheap, sooooo cheap, it’s unquantiably so.

    • Mary

      No.White people need to discuss this among themselves and stop d pending on Black folks to rescue them. It’s not our responsibility to save you. Only in private will you admit to shameful beliefs and ideas. Plus, ‘that rule the world’, ‘gotta be in charge cause everyone else is incompetent’ do it my way attitude needs to be seen and owned.
      You make laws so Black folks can’t get near you and then when you like rap music and Black culture is acceptably cool you wanna bumrush everything Black, cannabalize/imitate/be every aspect of Black culture and get offended if you’re not included, thought of, needed,or wanted. That “we’re all one” or “I’m blacker than you” junk is a ruse to keep you from feeling left out. You never like to be in the dark about anything. Just, no humility at all.
      But this is white people generally not just here. In Cuba Fidel closed down the Black cultural centers where Black people could tell our story to our children, because he saw it as separating Black Cubans from being Cuban. Nah, that’s just being mad’cause I’m not in control of something apart from myself”

      Once white people do their work and learn to be humble. I’mma say it again, learn to be humble, then and only then will it be worth having a conversation, until then, you’re like poison.
      How? You need to figure that out for yourself.
      I’m done talking to white folks about anything beyond social pleasantries.
      That’s it for me, and I know what you’ll say, so don’t bother replying.

  • miss t-lee

    I also love how all these new terms are conveniently popping up. “Alt-right”…like the f*ck is that? Call them folks what they are, neo Nazis.
    The tapdancing around race and certain words pertaining to such has been egregious.

    • Cause this happened. They are racist, fascist, and a few other things so I don’t know why folks are dancing around it. If I didn’t know better I would say I was shocked at how National Socialism takes hold in places like Russia (Considering their horribly intimate history with the Germans), western Europe, and here now but I know better. Some of these folks were with it when the first set of Nazis overran their nations.

      • brothaskeeper

        Wu, you see your girl Nimrata is about to be UN ambassador?

        • Cheech

          Thank you for clearing up for me who this Nimrata is of whom I keep hearing. I had forgotten.

          I wonder if she ever hangs out with Piyush?

        • My girl?!?!? Yeah, Nimrata is really disappointing me. I liked her telling him “bless your heart” but everyone gets on their knees for some power.* Folks with do some strange things for resume fodder.

          *It wasn’t an “Oh you poor thing” version of “bless your heart” but rather a “eat a d***” one.

          • brothaskeeper

            LoL. Right! Blinded by prestige and status, though. Now you’re stuck with McMaster. I’m praying for y’all.

          • Cleojonz

            It’s disgusting. They are all falling in line. As much as I hate her I would respect her if she would respect her and the others that have denounced the orange cheeto if they just said thanks but no thanks, I don’t want any part in your administration. And Christie is the one that was self serving? GTFOH!!!

      • miss t-lee

        I read about this yesterday. They’re even trying to backpedal that salute.
        I simply cannot with these folks.

        • That salute, while once common everywhere until Dolfie and ’em came around should make all free people cringe.

          • miss t-lee

            Hellz yeah.

          • Kylroy

            Same way they managed to poison the simple word for “the leader” in German.

    • King Beauregard

      As Wonderella recently tweeted, “Who else is weirded out that Neo Nazis got a normal-ass name like “Alt-Right”? Like this is a hate group, not a keyboard shortcut”

      • brothaskeeper

        Or an instruction from your Garmin.

        • Ess Tee

          Ugh. Garmin can kiss my azz. It stays shouting at me to “Move!” like I don’t walk to the bus stop, or walk to get lunch, or walk to the metro, or walk to the muhfuggin gym after work.

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        Lol at keyboard shortcut

      • TeeChantel

        My first thought.

      • Madame Zenobia

        That has been bothering me forever! So glad I’m not the only one who thought that.

    • Cheech

      Or, white supremacist antisemitic muthafuckas.

      • miss t-lee

        I like your second sentence best.

      • Mary

        You know, Trump finally denounced them and they’re disappointed but are willing to take a ‘watch and see’approach to him. He must need to work with some folks who said they wouldn’t unless he put a lid on it, but his cabinet is excluded, I guess?

        • Cheech

          “Denounced.” Right. Like he “disavowed” David Duke

          • Duff Soviet Union

            Yeah, he’s just saying what he has to. His cabinet picks tell the real story and it’s terrifying.

      • NonyaB?

        Or hyper-radioactive garbage in human form.

    • Courtney Wheeler

      The ironic and very scary raise of the “alt-right”(nazis) is that if you listen closely to what they’re saying it’s the same nationalistic/purist society bull’s just packaged differently. Latinos and South Asians that consider themselves “alt-right”. I actually read that a man said that scientifically whites and blacks are different..that a black man rejects a white patients heart 30% of the time in a transplant situation.

      I immediately thought of Tuskegee.

      • A Hitler humper will say anything to justify their racial superiority.

      • miss t-lee

        Nothing is new under the sun.

      • Michael D. Setty

        Or to put it another way, “white identity politics” if you will. The ultimate pushback to (mostly) white liberal-powered identity politics. It is highly disappointing that Damon didn’t get this key point.

    • Clowney is a problem btw.

      • miss t-lee

        Yes lawd!!!!
        Congrats on the win homie. That Amari guy is kinda good at this running thing…lol

        • Thanks. Y’all got hosed on the calls.
          Clowney just disrupted every running play that actually worked against Denver. I remember being told that he didn’t practice a SC a lot because he blew up plays so the offense couldn’t learn anything and I see why.

          Coop can run but they need to stop dropping all of those passes. Y’all gotta get rid of Brock.

          • miss t-lee

            The calls, the laser pointer, so many things went wrong.
            I just wanna a solid QB, apparently that’s too much to ask our general manager for.

            • They should have stopped the game until they found the idiot with the laser.

              • miss t-lee

                I thought so as well. Straight dyck move.

      • Cleojonz

        I’m sorry but his first names is Jadeveon so I’m judging :)

        Also Go Cowboys!

    • Question

      They’re calling themselves “identitarians”, led by Richard Spencer.

      • miss t-lee

        I’ma call em azzholes.

      • Anna_in_pdx

        …but that’s not “identity liberalism”? Well I guess it’s “identity nazism.” Weird that it is white supremacists who use the term “identity” but it is nonwhite identities that are a problem for Lilla.

    • Cmon widdit sis!!

      • miss t-lee

        FED UP girl. FED!

    • Paula White

      The most ironic part of it all is that these are the folks that proclaim to be sick and tired of political correctness, only to employ political correctness to bury the fact that “alt-right” is just plain ol’ white supremacy. I saw the interview Roland Martin did with the movement’s leader and dude sounded exactly like a guy I saw on The Geraldo Rivera show back in the 80s. Ain’t nothing changed.

      • miss t-lee

        Indeed. It’s all the same.

    • Asiyah

      They are Nazis. Period. Alt and ish is BS.

      • miss t-lee

        Point. Blank. Period.

    • NonyaB?

      Exactly. The media’s also flaming the fxckery and legitimizing them by using their made-up name instead of using standard descriptions of whit´e supremacist/far-right. That ship of mediocre fools is not original or ideologically different from right-wingers, despite their appropriating anti-oppression/civil rights terminology to portray themselves as a marginalized group.

    • NomadaNare

      I read a good article that basically says calling them neonazis and other more radical terms allows them to disassociate from the less demonstrative but no less hurtful conservatives

      I am fine with alternative right as a moniker

    • Mochasister

      It is annoying. It reminds me of the Doublespeak in George Orwell’s 1984.

      • miss t-lee

        Good catch.

      • Lenore

        Reminds me also of psychological projection.

    • Duff Soviet Union

      It’s especially weird given all the references to “feminazis” and “grammar nazis” you see online. Now these people can’t refer to actual Nazis as Nazis.

      Also funny how for all these people’s supposed hatred of “PC culture”, they choose a very PC name to avoid calling themselves what they actually are.

      • Charlito Brown

        Irony abounds in the realm of White supremacy.

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