ASPIE ALIENATION - FROM A BLACK PERSPECTIVE

On the surface, this may seem like a self-pitying, whining, woe-is-me tome from a forty-year-old loser with no lucrative career, income, or a decent amount of money who is still supported by his mother and doesn't know how to drive a car, which is akin to mental retardation in Southern California, where I live.

This article may seem at first glance a mere rambling by someone who blames the world and everyone in it for alll his troubles and failures.

Though some people will think such after reading this, I feel that would be an incorrect description; this is not intended to be self-pitying, whining, or woe-is-me, nor is it intended to coerce anyone into feeling sorry.

This is intended as a person with a disability - Asperger's Syndrome - describing his sufferings and struggles with a world that he feels he does not fit in, and his ostracism from it; a world that, in his view, clearly seems to exclude him from the milestones that it has to offer.

I believe that I can write about this disability and the experiences that go along with it, because the person describing his sufferings and struggles in the world due to this condition is me.

Before continuing, a definition of Asperger's Syndrome is certainly in order:

Asperger's Syndrome is a high-functioning form of autism that negatively affects social interaction.

As part of the autism spectrum, characteristics of this disorder include difficulty making friends, obsession with different topics and subjects, not understanding that other people have beliefs and feelings different than one's own, saying inappropriate things without realizing it, and in my case talikng to myself and reacting badly when I feel others are unnecessarily picking on me or treating me like a lesser being.


Putting it differently, "Aspies" are generally seen as a little strange. Sometimes they are seen by others as extremely strange. As one of the 20 million people with Asperger's worldwide, I am definitely no exception.

Bullied in elementary and junior high school, ostracized in high school, and after a reprieve with modest social success in college (and even then I was shunned and ostracized by a number of people), rejected in the workforce, my experiences with this condition has undoubtedly rendered me as an "odd aspie out".

What I was unaware of throughout my life, until much later on, was that in the world of children and adolescence, different equals bad.

Different equals dorky.

Different equals derision.

Different equals social rejection, and in many ways I was as different as one could get.

AS - short for Asperger's - is often called a "Geek Syndrome", because of people, children and adults, acting so different from the social norm, and having excessive knowledge and obsession with different things. That certainly described me growing up.

In my youth, and into my young adult years, I had obsessions ranging from Robin Hood, the Peanuts gang (I was an absolute Peanuts freak), and maps as a little kid, to baseball, baseball caps, and Judy Blume books as a young teenager, to college football, UCLA sports and athetic gear, and Las Vegas as an adult. This was not seen as normal to many people, and these obsessions, an AS trait, helped contribute to my ostracism and rejection.

Being an African-American youth with Asperger's, it was extremely tough trying to fit in and be accepted by my black peers, especially since I had lived in an almost all-white rural area until age nine, when I moved into a predominantly low-income minority neighborhood.

From kindergarten through third grade, I had exactly one black classmate in those four years. From fourth grade on, it was a completely different story. It didn't take long before I was essentially rejected by the other black kids at the schools I attended, especially the boys.

One may ask why the black kids, as a whole, rejected me so. Let me count the reasons:

FIRST: I was one of the best students in my grade and in my classes. School came easily to me in the elementary and junior high years, and I was fairly enthusiastic about it. I consistantly got top grades and awards; I particularly remember winning an essay award from the Daughters of the American Revolution and getting my picture in the local paper in fifth grade.

Unfortunately, among most of the black youth there, school success was not seen as socially "cool"; it is often still not seen as such. Being smart was - and largely still is - seen as a "white" thing among most black kids in the inner city. That made me a target for ridicule and bullying.

SECOND: Part of the black inner city youth culture dictated that your "coolness" factor depended on how well you brawled and threw fisticuffs; how tough or "hard" you were, which is still the case.

As for me, I didn't like to fight, because I was scared of gettiing into trouble and wanted to be in the good graces of teachers and others. I often cried when I was hit or picked on, so when I was "tested" in that aspect, I failed miserably and became a "mark".

In the eyes of many of the black kids I knew, I was "scary". I was also "goofy" - that was a common taunt. Not to mention, pardon the expression, a "faggot" in their eyes; I was called that as well.

THIRD: Up until around age eleven, I was not too good at athletic skills. I couldn't really catch, throw, or hit a ball, which is a prominent aspie trait; lack of gross motor skills.

In black youth culture, that was - and is - practically a crime punishable by death. It made me a big target of ridicule and taunting; derisive laughter and being called "sorry" was standard procedure with me. Even when my sports skills improved at around sixth grade, it was not enough to shake the reputation among the bulk of the black kids I had obtained at age nine.

FOURTH: Up until roughly my teen years I did not dress in the latest "hip" or "cool" styles or wear the "fresh" brand of shoes.

While the other boys were wearing knee-high tube socks, at ages nine and ten I was wearing "ankle-binders". While the other guys were wearing Nikes, Pro-Keds, Pumas, and Converse Doctor Js - the precursor to NIke Air Jordans - on their feet. I was wearing cheap K-Mart (the Walmart of the 1970s) jogging shoes and Toughskins jeans from Sears that sometimes "flooded" - failed to cover the ankles so that my socks were showing.

It wasn't until around the eighth grade that I started to wear what everyone else was wearing. It was then that I got my first Nike shoes. I remember them fondly: low-top white canvas with a light blue swoosh. Inevitably, I was ridiculed for the bulk of my time in the elementary upper grades, and it served as more cannon fodder for the majority of the black kids in my school.

In short, in black inner city youth culture it was - and is - "cool" to not be smart. I was.

It was not seen as socially cool to get good grades. I did.

It was seen as cool to be disrespectful to authority and to get into trouble at school. I didn't - I was regarded fondly by teachers and other adults and seen as a good kid.

It wasn't cool to talk to oneself. I did.

It was cool to be tough, or "hard", and to fight. I didn't.

It was cool to be good at sports. I wasn't until much later on.

It was expected to be dressed in the hip fashions and to wear the fresh sneakers. I didn't for a long time. All largely due to being an "aspie" and unaware of needing to not get good grades, to get into trouble, to fight, to be great at sports, and to wear the "fresh" clothes in order to be accepted.

In the eyes of many of the black kids, I was - again, pardon the expression - a "fag". A "mark". "Goofy". "Retarded".

As a result, I was summarily rejected and bullied, and ended up gravitating toward the white kids, who tended to treat me a little better than a lot of the black kids did. That led to even more derision from my black peers as an "Oreo" - black on the outside, white on the inside.

It is safe to say, looking back, that it hurt having people who looked like you socially reject you - it hurt a lot, actually.

So much so that even though I managed to find black friends in college, people who accepted me better for who I was because they, like me, were also smart and enjoyed success in school, I still felt largely alienated from the black community, specifically inner city black culture.

Simply put, many, if not most, of the black kids treated me badly during my childhood, and it has scarred me to the point that I find it perhaps too difficult to forgive and forget, even though I should.

There was a time when even some of my own relatives took part in abusing and bullying me in my eyes. I remember the exact date: July 4, 1976, our nation's 200th birthday.

I was nine years old at the time, having celebrated my birthday two weeks before. I was taken to my aunt and uncle's house for the celebrations - food, fireworks, firecrakers, sparklers, the whole nine. I better not name the town, if I'm going to describe what happened next...

I was sitting on the front steps with my uncle, and he, to my recollection, was asking me something about if I knew how to fight.

The next several minutes were a blur, as all of a sudden a bunch of fists were landing on me. I tried to fight back, but I knew I looked pathetic. The next thing I knew, some seeemingly thuggish neighbor girl with a cast on her arm clocked me and knocked me down, leading to some hysterical crying.

I understand now that they were trying to teach me how to be tough and to defend myself, to "toughen up".

My Asperger's, however, wouldn't let me see it that way.

In my mind, they were doing nothing but bullying and abusing me, which ultimately conrtributed to me feeling ostracized, rejected, and alienated from the African-American community at large, specifically the inner city community; it helped gravitate me toward the white kids that much more.

And it is apparent that this episode left a lasting impression of the negative kind, as I still remember it over thirty years later.

I need to emphasize that it was not all of my cousins and relatives that treated me like this; the youngest daughter of this particular uncle was like an older sister to me. Plus, in fairness, they had no idea about my AS. No one did in those days. Since they are family, I do have love and respect for them today.

However, although they likely did not realize it, and would probably deny it, I feel that they saw me as a bit of a "goofy mark", like many other young blacks I knew, and it helped to create a stain in me that I am still struggling with.

I also need to make clear that not all of the African-American kids I knew and grew up with were abusive and bullying to me. There were a few black kids that were nice and friendly and treated me well, including a group of sisters around my age who lived upstairs from me during my grade school years.

Unfortunately, those seemed to be the exception as the majority of African-American children I knew as a youngster were abusive bullies who rejected, taunted, and ostracized me bcause I was different from them and "acted white".

Ironically, their actions drove me toward the white kids even more.

My experiences as a child has made it clear that Asperger's Syndrome, to me, was a curse. In some ways it continues to be.

I have periodically thought that if I was not an "aspie", I would likely be married with a couple of kids (no more than two, though), who would probably be around ten years old. I would be owning my own home in a nice roomy suburb somewhere outside of Los Angeles or out in the country, or at least renting an attractive three or four bedroom duplex.

As for my career, it would be on solid, if not spectacularly fufilling, ground, as I would be a social studies teacher and a baseball or a softball coach at a middle school or a high school somewhere, making at least $70,000 a year.

In a nutshell, if it were not for the fact that I have Asperger's Syndrome and thus socially disabled, I would generally be enjoying the American Dream, complete with a large SUV or a van to drive around in, taking the wife and kids to vacations and places like Disneyland and UCLA football pre-game tailgates at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

There are some people who, while otherwise sympathetic to my struggles and frustrations of this disability, will say that I need to rise above it.

They will say that I need to stop using AS as a crutch or an excuse and move on from all of the bullying and the abuse heaped upon me all those years ago.

They will say, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do", and that I "need to take responsibility for myself and my actions", which does make a point, in the sense that I have made mistakes in my life that has cost me. I am not trying to deny that or paint myself as the perfect person or the helpless victim.

If I were an NT - a neurotypical person who did not have AS or any other type of disabilities, rising above being mistreated and taking responsibility for myself, more than I already have, would be much easier to do.

I believe, however, that to ask an "aspie" to simply rise above his shortcomings and his scars from abuse and social alienation is like asking a paraplegic in a wheelchair to get up and walk.

Even those people without Asperger's who have been bullied and socially abused as youngsters, like I was, oftentimes never "get over" such humiliations. Some remain adversely affected and unhappy, if not outright bitter.

The reason? It is simply too difficult to just "get over" such bad memories and to "move on". They can never forget, and often cannot forgive. To be perfectly honest, this describes me.

I do realize that I have to count my blessings. I have a family that supports and accepts me, Asperger's and all, plus a few close friends. If not for them, I'd probably be a homeless panhandler on the street, if not dead in a ditch somewhere.

Maybe someday, with their help and love, I can learn to forgive those who trespassed against me as a kid, if not forget. That would certainly be a step toward a complete healing. Perhaps one day me and other "aspies" will be understood and accepted for who they are and what they can do, rather than be be judged for what they are not and what they can't do.

That is definitely something that keeps me going.


Comments 16 comments

A Long 6 years ago

DHart,

How brave and insightful. I have never thought about how the world was treating you, because I have adored you so much for your entire life. If I could have taken some of that pain away from you I would have. I would have fought those cousins for you and with you.

I have ALWAYS said that you are my ABSOLUTE hero. You are a winner! The apple of our Grandparents' eye, and I love you just the way you are and my younger sister feels the same way.

Love from your cousin,

Lesli


lv 6 years ago

I have ALWAYS said that you are my ABSOLUTE hero. You are a winner! The apple of our Grandparents' eye, and I love you just the way you are and my younger sister feels the same way.

Love from your cousin,

Lesli


John 6 years ago

Personally, I had more problems being ostracised by adults such as teachers and family members. They say that school aged children can be cruel, but adults are worse. Throughout school I was treated like a sub-human and they literally acted like I was retarded. Automatically decided to put me in special ed classes which were far below my own abilities. I was not the type to cause problems or distractions in class and I was well behaved compared to many of the other students. I was smarter than most of the classmates yet I was not allowed to take any of the advanced courses. They had me in the remedial classes with people who couldn't even speak English. It was like being spit in the face on a daily basis. I stopped attending classes (I wasn't learning anything) so they eventually they sent me to a lockup type boarding school (my family was also cruel and used me as their regular scapegoat). Any friends that I made during this time were eventually not allowed to associate with me because of the undeserved bad reputation I got from school faculty and my parents scapegoating. It was a bum rap. I've seen many doctors since then and most agree that I have slight aspergers that is almost unnoticeable, and that My real problems stem from ptsd and the fact that my mother displays symptoms of munchausen by proxy. This was the mane source of the ostracism I received (due to her factitious lying about my behavior to teachers and psychological professionals). In a nutshell, I felt the only thing faculty at schools forgot to do was paint a colored triangle on my sleeve and send me to my last shower. I could handle the other children's behavior, it was the adults in my life who were vicious.


Dhart profile image

Dhart 6 years ago from Culver City, CA Author

@ John: A very interesting perspective you've got there. The fact that you survived all of that is remarkable and admirable.


Nicole Nicholson 5 years ago

Hello DHart:

I have been there, I have been there, I have been there. I am multiracial with African, European, and American Indian ancestry. I went through very similar kinds of teasing and bullying as a teenager and young girl -- except in my case, minus the pressure to be "tough" or "hard". I used to think that part of the bullying was due to being half white and refusing to "choose" in a somewhat racially divided atmosphere, but now I think that's only part of it -- the rest was probably Asperger's at work. Yes, I got the "Oreo" comments too. Yes, I was teased for performing well in school and using advanced vocabulary. Yes, I felt out of place with inner-city black culture. I've concluded that I won't ever fit, I've stopped trying, and I've decided that it's not really important anyway.

I have been looking for other Aspies of color, primarily on the interwebs. I don't run into too many of us out there. Unfortunately, there is a perspective that Asperger's and other autism spectrum disorders are a "white" problem -- and to some degree, a "nerdy white male" problem, since women are grossly underdiagnosed. Please feel free to come check out my blog, Woman With Aspergers (http://womanwithaspergers.wordpress.com). While it's primarily geared towards Aspie women, I am trying to reach out to Aspies of color, regardless of gender.

Thank you for sharing your story. I've bookmarked this article.

-Nicole


Dhart profile image

Dhart 5 years ago from Culver City, CA Author

@ Nicole: Thanks for the comments - they're much appreciated. As a kid, I was the only one of color I knew who was like me (has AS), so I do understand. I'll definitely check out your blog.


Banter Mouth 5 years ago

Thank you.


AA Asp Mom 5 years ago

I appreciate your perspective. I am an African American single parent mom with a son whom I believe has Asp. He has always been heavy into video games, computer and anime. For all of his school life he was either teased or ostracized by blacks. Even today in college his only friends are white or asian males. My concern is that he is extremely fascinated by white females. Yet he has had his heart broken by two white girls. I don't know how to get him interested in girls of his own race. I am concerned that b/c of his past hurts he may think white is the only way to go. Do you have a perspective on this thought?


Dhart profile image

Dhart 5 years ago from Culver City, CA Author

@ AA Asp Mom:

Your comments are interesting, thanks for them.

It's pretty obvious in my view that the reason that he's "fascinated by white females", as you say, is that due to his AS the black females have rejected, ostracized, and perhaps bullied him, thinking that he's "goofy"; he probably thinks it's a waste of time trying to get interested in girls of his own race.

In my experience, the black community, especially in the inner city, is much less tolerant of people who are different like your son.

I felt the same way as he when I was younger, except it wasn't just white girls with me; I was into other girls of color, particularly Latinas (My first/only real love was w/ a Latina).

My main perspective on this is that I feel that your son feels white is the only option b/c save the 2 times when he's had his heart broken, whites have been nicer to him than blacks.

The only way that can possibly change is if he finds some blacks who accept him for what he is and doesn't think he's "goofy"; if you could help him with that, great! I was lucky to find a few fellow blacks like that during my college days.

In the meantime, you may have to accept that he'll only be interested in white girls, b/c if you try to push him towards just blacks, he'll be miserable...that's the way I see it.


Hag 5 years ago

«in his view, clearly seems to exclude him from the milestones that it has to offer.»

I always had this feelling, I think it's really what is appenning. They reject any differences, they suffer of pathological comformism. I tryed hard to join their world but I always feel like a child falled from some starship on an alien world called Eart by it's inabitant. All my effort resulted in abuse, exclusion, half-success, etc. As parent my 1 st priority is to protect my child from all those NT abuses and duplicity.


nikadee43 4 years ago

Hi. This post hasn't been commented on for a while, but hopefully people are still reading it. The comments made by AA Asp Mom and your response to it stuck out to me because I've went through the same experience as a teen. I've always been accused of "acting white" by other blacks, so much so that at one point, when I was in elementary school, I started to believe they were right. It took me YEARS to become comfortable and accepting of who I am, and even then I still had some identity issues. I found out I have AS only late last year. I knew I was different from other black kids in my mannerisms, my interests, and the way I spoke and interacted with them, as well as being different from most kids in general.

I've thought about this topic a lot, and I remember as a child my mother made sure to send me to schools in middle-upper class neighborhoods, which at the time in California were mostly in "white" neighborhoods. She encouraged me to sit with white and asian kids near the front of the classroom because they were smarter and better behaved. She literally said this to me. That had to have automatically given me a bias towards black kids, whether I understood it then or not. Naturally, those were the kids I would end up becoming friends with (I've never had too hard a time making friends, but it's extremely difficult for me to interact with & keep them), and picked up some of their mannerisms and characteristics through mimicking in an effort to fit in (apparently girls with AS are sometimes really good at this). Whenever I used those same mannerisms around other black kids, I would be made fun of. I had no idea what I was doing wrong, and all people would say is "She thinks she's white" or "She doesn't like black people". Although I knew there were differences between whites and blacks, it didn't occur to me how big those differences were to people. I didn't think it mattered. I received the same amount of bullying and alienation from my own mother (and other family members), the same person who told me not to hang out with certain black kids at school. Most of my friends were white and the boys I had crushes on (I was never allowed to date) were white, which was clearly a problem for my mother.

As a result, I learned not to trust all black people out of fear of being rejected or teased. I'm naturally suspicious of all people, regardless of race, because of my inability to understand them, but I've unfortunately have met very very few African Americans that have made me feel comfortable about being who I am. I had acquaintances who were black throughout all of my pre-college years, but only a couple that were true friends, and I'm not in contact with them anymore. College was basically the same situation. As an adult (26) pretty much all of the people that I can consider friends are not black. They aren't all white, but the majority of them are. It does sadden me because I'm interested in all cultures and pictured myself having friends of many races, but I must say that I'm still pretty discouraged about putting myself out there, and I'm finding that I have only a small amount of the social energy I had when I was younger. So it doesn't feel worth it to put energy into mostly anyone, let alone put energy into finding friends that are also black.

At this point, especially since realizing why I'm so different, I'm becoming more comfortable with myself, and feel less like I have to prove myself to anyone, regardless of what race they are. To AS Mom, I think if your son could have that level of comfort with himself (if he hasn't already), then that should be celebrated. If he had people in his life that are accepting of him and genuinely care about him, in the end that should be all that matters. I'm not in any way saying he should close himself off to the possibility of having black friends. I'm very open and do wish I had friends I can culturally relate to,but if that happens it will happen naturally the way I normally become friends with someone. It may be safe to say that most aspies hate being pushed into doing things. My mom used to force me to try and be friends with certain people, and I hated it. Being open minded and encouraging I think is the best thing you can do for him.

@DHart- Thanks for making this post. There is still very little information out there for aspies of color, it was nice to stumble across this.


Dhart profile image

Dhart 4 years ago from Culver City, CA Author

@ nikadee: It's too bad that you were unable to find black friends who could relate to you in college; i was lucky to have been able to do so then.

Just keep on being yourself :)


Air6 3 years ago

First of all I have to say you have a good head on your shoulders, very insightful and level. I'm don't have asperger's but your article made me want to cry.

I too was treated VERY bad by the black kids at my school for not "being on of them" This, like your experience has shaped the course of my adult life.

I think there are some things that are too politically correct to talk about and this is one of them. Black kids are more physically aggressive and have a monolithic way of thinking so if you're "different" you will get jeered at and tested. It's just the way it is and no one talks about this shit. I don't think in a spiritual sense that anybody is better than anybody else but I don't understand why things are the way they are. I'm VERY bitter but I know this is not healthy and I"m trying to get over this bitterness I animosity I have towards other blacks. I know it's wrong to feel this way but I'm human and I'm working towards understanding and forgiveness.

And don't let people be smug and blunt and tell you to "get over it". People are different. What one person shrugs off another will be devastated and scarred for life. Plus the people telling you to get over it aren't perfect themselves.


Mark Francis 3 years ago

Thank You DHart and everyones comments! A huge weight has been lifted off my chest. For all these years I thought I was alone. I have been such an angry negative person because of similar experiences. WoW


BrotherInBerlin 3 years ago

I just registered to say thank you for your thoughts! I have an ADD diagnosed but I think it is more a (maybe lighter version of the) AS. I understand SO MUCH of your frustration and about your struggle and tries "to get harder, tougher,..." !

Now I am 28 and I have the big privilege to be supported by a family, that is not rich, but doesn't have money problems either and I am still trying to fit in an ordinary job environment - and that the thing with the job doesn't work out is still my biggest worry, because I started many things several times and never finished them.

Concerning social issues I don't try to be part of cool in the first place but position myself immediately as (over-)sensitive guy, which works with a big amount of self irony :)

Good luck and much strength!


DavidB 2 years ago

Dhart,

Thanks for this blog. I, too, am an African-American male aspie who is 46. Your experiences are like my own in that I was also bullied, picked on, and ostracized from the African-American cliques in elementary school and junior high school. I grew up in an all-African-American middle class neighborhood in Hampton, VA. Elementary, junior high, and high schools were 90%, 30%, and 30% African-American respectively. I was picked on not so much for being an aspie (I hid my aspie traits as best I could) but because making good grades and having interests outside of the stereotypical African-American culture was viewed as "acting white". I was in advanced classes and by the time I reached high school I was one of maybe three African-Americans in each of my classes and the bullying stopped; other than the bus rides to/from school I was effectively removed from the bullies.

I was fortunate to attend undergraduate at a Historically Black University where there were many smart African-American students who were much more tolerant of classmates trying to make good grades (imagine that!). I was even highly respected by some classmates. But I did notice that I was socially more attracted to non-American students: Africans, Pakistanis, etc. I didn't realize it then but it was because I felt more comfortable around them not having to conform to stereotypical behaviors. Attending an HBCU gave me a positive view of African-Americans and it taught me to not be dismissive or fearful of African-Americans but to be tolerant, understanding, and forgiving of all people, especially neuro-typicals. Well, I try to be.

Of all people, I was picked on the most by African-American females. I'm not sure why but my personality seems to be particularly offensive to them. In junior high and high school most African-American females seemed to be disgusted by any non-stereotypical behaviors by African-American males. But I've learned that it's OK if I'm not considered attractive to most African-American women or by most women in general. Interestingly enough, I have only dated African-American females and was married to one for twenty years. I don't throw shade on African-American women. Society has been particularly unkind to them. I am very thankful for having a relationship with ANY female, regardless of race.

Dhart, thanks again for the blog.

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    Michelle 2 years ago

    I am so glad that I found this! I am an African American female that has endured much of the same bullying and criticisms such as yourself. I have yet to be diagnosed with Asperger's, but I have diagnosed myself a while ago. I believe that I was around the age eleven when I first came across the term. I have struggled to find anyone that I have been able to relate to or that has had some of the same experiences such as myself. I am currently pursing my Masters in Mental Health counseling, and now my obsession with the disorder has come back in full effect. But I am learning to love and accept all the traits and characteristics that make me different. I truly love some of them, but I hate the social isolation that comes a long with it. I have no friends, and I have no one to really talk to. It causes me to feel depressed, which then causes my grades to suffer and it becomes a domino affect after. I would write more but everyone is looking at me, because I am typing really fast and really hard lol


    Cheers 2 years ago

    I'm a self diagnosed Aspie. It's so sad when people are bullied for being different. I believe a large part of this is how American society is and has been structured for 400 years. I can identify with bullying for being different but in my case it was by white European people in Europe. My early childhood was spent in Africa and I was not generally bullied which I think really helped me. I've also lived for a few years in the US and in one of my interest moods, I started to read up a lot about Reconstruction and how African Americans were beaten and communities destroyed for being successful and there has been an element of not standing out in the community otherwise something bad will happen. This is what I feel is going on today for many people.

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