What Is Racist About Race-Based Dating Preferences

Via Ask.Fm:

I find I’m a lot more attracted to East Asians (from China/Japan/Koreas/Vietnam/Thai/etc.) than I am to other races. I have no control over this. And it’s not like I don’t find other races attractive, just less attractive. Does that make me racist?

There is something racist here, but it’s not the fact that this person finds themselves attracted to people they perceive to be of a certain race.

This question rests on two premises.

  1. “East Asian” is a meaningful term when describing people to whom you are attracted.
  2. Non-platonic attraction is something that is innate and immutable.

The truth behind the second premise is much more complicated than many would like to admit, and a topic for another post. The first premise, however, is intriguing in what it implies: that there is at least one trait shared by all people of their preferred gender of certain East Asian ethnicities that cannot be found in people of their preferred gender  who aren’t of those ethnicities. There is no logical way that is true.

What is more likely is that the question-asker is stereotyping East Asians in some way. While certain types of stereotyping might seem “positive”, they are still negative because they have the potential to harm individuals in the stereotyped group who don’t live up to them.

It is also likely (although I wouldn’t want to assume the worst) that those stereotypes are related to horrifically racist and sexist Orientalist notions of The East.

So no, merely being attracted to mostly people of a certain race or other isn’t necessarily racist. However, saying “I like [race] more than other races” carries racist assumptions and cultural baggage.

Update 1/8: The anon asker has this to add. I don’t think the discussion has to be just about their preferences, though. It’s obviously a wider issue.

 I left out my gender and the gender of those I’m attracted to on purpose. I noticed I and my attractions became gendered both in your post and in your comments despite this, although I also noticed you removed the gendering from your post at a later time. I’m still going to leave out my own gender, but I will say that my sexuality is pansexual, and that my attraction applies to all genders who have those “East Asian” features I meant to allude to. (I’ll get back to discussing that particular phrase later.) I find femininity more attractive than masculinity, but that’s not really dependent upon the gender of the person.

I was talking about physical attraction when I wrote my question to you. For whatever reason, I left that out, and I don’t know why. I noticed there was a lot of talk about stereotypes of submissive women and whatnot, and that wasn’t really part of my question. I don’t find submission to be an attractive trait. I’m kind of opposite the commenter “samgardner(9)”, who says it’s less about physical appearance and more about personalities. I’m perfectly aware that “East Asian” people are just as diverse as any person of any other race.

Is the term “East Asian” meaningful? I only put it there because the ethnicities to whom I find myself the most attracted to happen to all be “from” eastern Asia. If it has any meaning beyond that, I don’t know.

I think this was alluded to in your comment section, but it’s wrong to say that I think there’s at least one trait shared by *ALL* people of East Asian ethnicities. I do not think so. However, there clearly has to be something, I assume one or more traits, shared by many or even most East Asians, at least comparatively so than other ethnicities.

“Bill Dauphin, avec fromage(13)” is onto something when he says it’s a combination of traits that does the trick for me, in terms of attraction. And while you certainly can find people who have many of the same traits in other races, they appear with much higher frequency in “East Asian” people than they do in other races. I know for a fact, based on my own research into my attraction, than neotenous features (or cuteness) has a much greater effect on me than “beauty” does (at least, the way beauty is defined in western culture).

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What Is Racist About Race-Based Dating Preferences
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49 thoughts on “What Is Racist About Race-Based Dating Preferences

  1. 1

    The first premise, however, is intriguing in what it implies: that there is at least one trait shared by all women of certain East Asian ethnicities that cannot be found in women who aren’t of those ethnicities. There is no logical way that is true.

    Brilliant! And you just answered something that’d been nagging me for years!

  2. 2

    Would the situation be different if the question had been worded “I like East Asian-looking women more”?
    Here in germany, I often find actual racists conflating “looks like a foreigner” and “actually is a foreigner” (because really, they don’t like the former), so in this case, wouldn’t it be less-racist if you were attracted to a certain look, instead of any cultural implications?

  3. Pen
    3

    …there is at least one trait shared by all women of certain East Asian ethnicities that cannot be found in women who aren’t of those ethnicities. There is no logical way that is true.

    Wouldn’t it be possible to make allowances for the fact that the writer may know he is generalizing? Suppose he has a thing for really smooth, straight black hair. Sure, you can find it among other ethnicities and some East Asian women don’t have it, but there is a trend. It’s hard for me to judge. I really don’t have a racial preference when it comes to dating. I do have a gendered one but because it is so conventional, nobody has ever encouraged me to ask myself if I might be sexist because of it!

    What I often find disturbing in these cases isn’t so much the preferences themselves as the way people sometimes express them: gratuitously or at length, or with a tendency set them up as objective properties of the people in question rather than subjective perceptions of the speaker. Also, a big no-no for me is when someone starts expressing their preferences in negative form, e.g. ‘I’m just not attracted to…’

  4. 4

    Is the asker a he, and did they mean East Asian women?

    [I read it differently at first … but got unsure when I noticed he and women in the reply and comments here]

  5. 5

    If someone were to admit to finding pronounced epicanthic folds, straight black hair, and a petite build particularly attractive, without mentioning any particular geographical location, would that be okay?

    1. 5.1

      You must think I’m like super important if you think that I have any authority to declare what’s okay and what’s not. And literally no one would say “I find pronounced epicanthic folds very erotic” aside from, I don’t know, a Straw Vulcan.

      1. Aww, Heina, you’re underestimating the variety of forms that human minds can take. If that were true of me, I would totally phrase it that way. Well, okay, I’d say “sexually attractive” instead of “erotic”. For real – that’s how I talk in day-to-day conversation.

        Granted, the phrasing makes me suspect the statement was made in bad faith, but some actual people do talk like that.

  6. 6

    The first premise, however, is intriguing in what it implies: that there is at least one trait shared by all people of their preferred gender of certain East Asian ethnicities that cannot be found in people of their preferred gender who aren’t of those ethnicities. There is no logical way that is true.

    In what way is attraction to someone compelled to be logical? If someone is attracted, for example, to women of lighter skin than of darker skin, does there have to be a logical reason for that attraction without being termed as a racist?

    The alleged racist is being clear. Sure, he could have worded it with more precise, anthropologically accurate terms, but he chose to do it with a sloppy label, but with examples. Had he instead said “I find myself more attracted to women from China than I do to those from Tanzania or England” would that be racist as well?

    1. 6.1

      Attraction doesn’t have to be logical. It often isn’t. However, one’s terminology can — and, dare I say, ought — to be logical. I was taking issue with their terminology rather than their attraction. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    2. 6.2

      Oh, and:

      1. I never called this person a racist. Indeed, I was very careful not to.
      2. This person never said their gender nor the gender of the people to whom they are attracted. I reflected that with my wording. Way to assume it’s a heterosexual male.
      3. China, Tanzania, and England are home to people of many races who vary quite a bit in appearance from each other.
      1. This person never said their gender nor the gender of the people to whom they are attracted. I reflected that with my wording. Way to assume it’s a heterosexual male.

        True, then assuming that it was a sexual attraction of sorts itself is way out there as well, I suppose. Note that does not affect the argument though. He (or she) could be attracted to ALL genders, you highlighted this in the context of race.

        China, Tanzania, and England are home to people of many races who vary quite a bit in appearance from each other.

        Then why would it be racist in the least? I suppose I missed your point entirely.

        1. I didn’t say it was sexual, either.

          And you did miss my point. Chances are, when someone says “I’m into Chinese women”, they have a specific set of stereotypes in mind. They aren’t considering the wide variations among people in that large country.

  7. AMM
    7

    Our preferences don’t come from nowhere. We grow up in racist societies, it’s in the air we breathe and the food we eat, so to speak. Of course our preferences are going to have a racist bias. The very fact that we see people in terms of “Asian” or “Black” or whatever, rather than, say, shoe size, is a consequence of racism.

    Also, I don’t buy the idea that preferences are immutable. Sure, if you aren’t willing to put any work into it, they’re not going to change. Just as housing segregation, or racist criminal justice systems won’t change if nobody’s willing to go outside their comfort zone. But if you actually consider what your preferences say about you and do so each time you notice those preferences come up, those preferences will change.

    1. 7.2

      AMM,
      Criticism of people for being attracted to other races can also be based in racism. My parents, who were an Anglo man and a Mexican American woman, put up with quite a bit of it.
      Whispers of “He married Her?”

  8. 8

    Ha, as someone who finds cartoon animal-people sexually attractive, I would never claim number 2. 😀

    That said, I think it’s fair to say that human beings are predisposed to be attracted to features we associate with positive experiences and interactions, and are generally not terribly introspective about the source of that attraction. The positive experience could be as benign as “I had a lot of east asian friends and dates growing up”, or as toxic as “hentai rocks”.

  9. 9

    Dating is personal, and I’m not really convinced it’s profitable to start attaching labels of racism to it.

    The premise is in no way that a trait cannot be found in other races it’s that certain traits, and really more combinations of traits, are more common among some groups. I’m sorry, but that was simply poorly thought out.

    I’m also attracted to east Asians, and yes, I’d specifically cite the pronounced epicanthic folds. I’m a little miffed at being called a straw Vulcan.

    Personally, though, the physical traits are a relatively minor part of what makes someone attractive. The personalities of east Asians attract me more than their mere physical characteristics — so, speaking for myself, I would likely find a German with straight black hair and a somewhat flat face attractive, but likely not as attractive as an east Asian
    .

    It is also likely (although I wouldn’t want to assume the worst)”

    So, you wouldn’t want to assume it, but you’re perfectly willing to allude to and state it as ‘likely’?

  10. 10

    It’s an interesting question. The first girl I really had a crush on (at something like age 3) was the daughter of Pakistani immigrants who babysat me. I brought her chocolate milk and flowers every day and we played together and slept together. It was nice and cute. Anyway, she was dark skinned and dark haired and since then I’ve found that I’ve had a fondness for those kinds of general traits. Now I’m married to a Taiwanese woman. Of course, I’ve been attracted to and dated all kinds of white women (there are more of them around, so I guess it’s inevitable), though even then I go more for those who are a bit more tan or have brown to black hair. But I’ve also known people who go for specific races based on what can only be racist ideas. A girl in high school only dated Asian men because she thought it would give her children a better chance at being smarter. A guy at work only dated Asian women because he thought they would be more worshipful of his glorious self (gag). Another guy liked black women because they were “sassy” and allegedly more sexual. It occurs to me, honestly, that while it’s easy to say “I’m attracted to these traits and x group tends to have these traits most; therefore, I am attracted to x group,” it’s certainly a logical fallacy. It’s better for me, personally to just say “I like dark hair and dark skin” and leave it at that.

  11. 12

    I didn’t understand yellow fever when I was younger. I dated someone, who exclusively liked East Asians. Later, I found that is was because he desired a submissive person to put up with crap no one should foist on a partner. So yes, the stereotyping of submissive hypersexuals (thank you porn!) is damaging.

  12. 13

    The first premise, however, is intriguing in what it implies: that there is at least one trait shared by all people of their preferred gender of certain East Asian ethnicities that cannot be found in people of their preferred gender who aren’t of those ethnicities.

    I’m not sure it does imply that. Your formulation implies (or perhaps assumes) that attraction is (usually, or at least often) reducible to “one trait.” I’m sure that’s true for some fraction of people — that there’s one hair color, eye shape, body style, whatever, that’s their sole physical/visual criterion for attraction — but I suspect it’s not true for most (it certainly isn’t for me).

    For the sake of the example, let’s assume that we’re talking about what a man finds attractive in a woman. If it’s just straight black hair, then sure, he can find that in women of many, many different ethnicities. But if it’s the combination straight black hair and brown eyes and a certain skin hue and tone and pronounced epicanthic folds (which really is a pretty dry term for an aspect of attraction) and a slight, slender body shape… well, he still might find all that in a non-east Asian woman, and obviously not even close to all east Asian women share all those traits, but odds are good that the set of women he might meet who do share all, or even most, of those traits has a pretty large intersection with the set of women he might meet who are of east Asian ethnicity.

    Of course, I assume we’re talking about visual attraction here: what he might appreciate in a photograph or a movie or a stranger in a crowd. I imagine that for many of us such purely aesthetic aspects would be overwhelmed by other factors once the connection was based on something more than a mere exchange of photons.

    If, OTOH, the “attraction” is based on cultural stereotypes — esp. stereotypes about the presumed submissiveness or compliance of women from some cultures — well, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of horses of another color.

    1. 13.1

      I didn’t say it was just one trait. I said it was at least one trait. I wouldn’t presume to know how many attractive-to-them traits this person assumes are true of all East Asians.

      1. Understood. I just meant that it’s much more “logical” (to use your term) to associate related clusters of traits (i.e., seen like atoms rather than like molecules) with ethnicity than individual traits (even if more than one).

  13. 14

    samgardner @8 is a good example of this phenomenon. There is no one “personality” of East Asian women, except that people (typically men) assume that it means submissive. It’s stereotyping straight up, and somewhat offensive because as usual it lumps all female people into this single “one” instead of recognizing their individual persons.

    *Yes, women do it too as was already noted above.

  14. 15

    I was born in, grew up in, and still live in a small European country. Almost all men that I saw from childhood onwards were of my own race, and even more so: of the Austrian variety of my own race. So I grew up with “grown-up male” basically equalling something like “is usually quite a lot taller and heavier than me, tends to be wide in the shoulders, has big-boned limbs, mid-brown to dark brown hair, a ovalish face with potential beard-growth and a strong chin and a big nose.” So that’s (roughly, and definitely not exclusively) what I am attracted to. Because my young brain learned that that’s what’s male. I can’t help (a lot) what physical attributes I feel attracted to. And I don’t think that’s racist as such. But I think racism would come in if I said “Asien men ARE less attractive BECAUSE they have less of those characteristics that many Caucasian males have.” Because the truth is: Those characteristics are not what objectively defines attractiveness in males. The Caucasian race isn’t the parameter of what IS attractive. So: I think that to find the characteristics of one race especially attractive is not necessarily racist. But I believe it becomes racist when you think that these characteristics are objective standards, and when you then use these pseudo-objective standards to pseudo-objectively rate other races’ characteristics. On the other hand: maybe even that is not racist, but “just” horribly self-centered??? Most people believe that what they like is THE parameter for objectively assessing reality. For example: “Healthy food is not as good as unhealthy food, that’s just a sad fact.” Not true. I for example actually like healthy food much better, taste-wise! But if someone can’t imagine that that’s possible they’ll make a “fact” out of personal preference. Not sure if the same process can be called “racist” when applied to racial characteristics? Don’t take me wrong, I think it’s horrible, but I’m not sure if by definition it is racist as long as I don’t say that the races I’m less attracted to are worth less?

    1. 15.1

      So: I think that to find the characteristics of one race especially attractive is not necessarily racist. But I believe it becomes racist when you think that these characteristics are objective standards, and when you then use these pseudo-objective standards to pseudo-objectively rate other races’ characteristics.

      Sounds quite logical. Note however that, at least from the context, the subject is not talking about defining standards of attraction, just that he (or she) personally finds certain traits attractive—no indication that he mandates the standard for anyone else. Don’t think that is racist at all.

      1. It seems implicit in the discussion to me.
        This is an emotional minefield for me, with my parents being who they were and how I’ve seen interracial couples treated over the last 40-50 years.

        There are atritcles out there about the problems interracial couples face; A quick search found this: (Haven’t figures out how to use tags here)

        http://family.jrank.org/pages/930/Interracial-Marriage-Difficulties-in-Interracial-Marriages.html

        ” The Watts and Henriksen (1999) study also found that problems and difficulties are also experienced because of the mythical messages received from the Caucasian culture. These include: “Black men only marry white women for status symbols or upward mobility,”

        So picking examples of people with problematic reasons for an attraction is on old tactic to discredit interracial relationships.

  15. AMM
    17

    We live in racist societies, therefore our preferences (and anti-preferences) are going to incorporate that racism. Some posters’ discomfort with being aware of that fact doesn’t make it any less true.

    The question is not: “am I an evil, awful racist who ought to just drown him-/herself?” The question is: “how do I deal with the racism that inevitably taints my unconscious and conscious preferences, so I can do less harm?”

    When people misinterpret posts like this one as asking the first question, I see it as a derail, so that they can say that nothing can or should be done.

  16. Gus
    18

    What if the person had said “I find I’m a lot more attracted to women than I am to other genders?”

    Would you have responded that the person is assuming that there is at least one trait shared by all women that cannot be found in people who are not women? That strikes me as a very uncharitable reading.

    1. AMM
      18.2

      What if the person had said “I find I’m a lot more attracted to women than I am to other genders?”

      Then I would say that, given that we live in a sexist, heteronormative, homophobic, and transphobic society, the person would do well to examine why they feel that someone being in the class “women” makes them more attractive to them than people not in that class.

      There might be good reasons — after all, in the USA, people in the category “black” have good reason to mistrust people in the category “white,” due to the deep-seated racism of USA society. I (male, or at least usually assigned to the class “male”) myself cannot bring myself to trust men enough to feel any attraction to them, and that’s due to a lot of bad experiences with boys and men and male socialization. But I own that “prejudice,” and see it as a result of my society’s screwed-up standards of “masculinity” and “femininity,” not to mention its power structures.

      On the other hand, a lot of men are attracted to women because they’re looking for someone they can dominate (or abuse), and society’s sexism makes it easier for a man to dominate (or abuse) a woman than another man. IMHO, this is not an admirable reason to be “attracted to women.”

      BTW, if you spend much time dealing with TG issues, you come to realize that the categories “woman” and “man” are not as well-defined as is generally supposed.

  17. 19

    “I wouldn’t presume to know how many attractive-to-them traits this person assumes are true of all East Asians.”

    Please acknowledge that you’re aware that no one saying “I find X group attractive” means they find every member of the group attractive or assume every member has the traits they find attractive.

    “So now they don’t all just look alike, but are clones in terms of personalities?”

    No — no one has ever claimed they’re clones in any fashion. We’re talking about tendencies. They’re not clones in appearance either, and I think it’s pretty insulting for you to suggest (you’ll protest that you didn’t suggest this — but if that’s not what you meant, why did you respond to my post that way?).

    “There is no one “personality” of East Asian women, except that people (typically men) assume that it means submissive. ”

    Of course there’s no one “personality” of East Asian (women), the same way there’s no one “look” of East Asian (women).

  18. 20

    “If, OTOH, the “attraction” is based on cultural stereotypes — esp. stereotypes about the presumed submissiveness or compliance ”

    actually, if your whole idea of east asians is that they’re submissive, this probably isn’t a good conversation for you to be in at all.

    1. 20.1

      Not my idea at all; just an example of the sort of invidious stereotypes about the relationship between ethnicity and personality that have been mentioned in this thread. This stereotype exists; I was explicitly separating it from the point I was making because I disavow it.

      My wife and I lived in Korea for a while (long, long ago). While there are threads of commonality in any culture (what else could define culture?), I know better than to imagine there’s any “personality” that’s characteristic of Korean people, never mind east Asians more generally.

  19. 21

    But…. there is one trait that all women share: They’re women.

    And black people all share the trait of being black and East Asians all share the trait of being East Asian. I don’t see how this is a helpful statement, in context. For example, I identify as a heterosexual man, which means I am attracted exclusively to women. But if you think about it as closely as you’re thinking about the race attraction issue, you find it still isn’t that simple. If I run into a trans-man, for instance, who isn’t very far along in his transition. I would very likely still find myself attracted to him, however, because he would still possess many of the physical traits that tend to cluster in females. We needn’t even go that far. Sometimes there are cis men who nonetheless possess so many traits on the female side of the spectrum that they can be mistaken for female. I would probably find this man attractive, too, if all the right traits aligned. At the same time, any woman who had too many male-typical though not male-exclusive traits I would likely not be attracted to. So when I say I am exclusively attracted to women, what I really mean is that there is a complex family of traits, of which I might only consciously be able to pick out one or two, which I am attracted to which are overwhelmingly represented in women. There are also complex families of traits that are represented most prominently in one race or the other, which is how we can identify races in the first place (even if there is no real biological distinction). So when someone says they are attracted to people of a specific race more than others, they most likely mean that there is a family of traits they are attracted to which they have found almost exclusively represented in one ethnicity over the others; therefore, they are most likely to be attracted to a member of this ethnicity than not. This is how the question of attraction to a gender and attraction to a race are similar, in my understanding, anyway.

    1. 21.1

      I hear you on the complexities of gender and attraction. You make a good point there, one that’s outside the scope of this post and that I’d have to think about before addressing.

      There are also complex families of traits that are represented most prominently in one race or the other, which is how we can identify races in the first place (even if there is no real biological distinction). So when someone says they are attracted to people of a specific race more than others, they most likely mean that there is a family of traits they are attracted to which they have found almost exclusively represented in one ethnicity over the others; therefore, they are most likely to be attracted to a member of this ethnicity than not.

      The problem is that the assessment of what that family of traits might be is not a neutral act. It’s an act that occurs in a racist society and so is often racist (along with sexist, fat-hating, and so on).

      For example, I’ve had men who claim to be especially attracted to “Indian women” reject me as unattractive because I am fat and my hair isn’t straight. They think of Indian women as slim with straight hair, which is a set of stereotyped traits which may or may not be true for someone who is Indian. If they’d instead said that they were into tan-skinned women with straight dark hair and slim builds, they’d avoid stereotyping and be more likely to find the kind of woman they want.

      Completely unrelated point: May I ask that you use paragraph breaks in future for readability? I had trouble getting through the unbroken block of text.

  20. 22

    Heina: Your last post seems to be zeroing in on the idea that using ethnic identifiers for a collection of physical traits, and then stating an attraction for that identifier, is how the racist aspect creeps in, especially as those traits are narrowed in scope so as to effectively deny the ethnic identity of people who do not possess those traits. If I’m reading you right, then I definitely agree–it’s sloppy thinking and language, and that’s how a lot of microaggressions manifest.

    I’m not even going to get into samgardner’s obvious cultural racism, where he spreads that to personality traits.

  21. 24

    As a ‘slit-eyed’ ethnic, I see no issue in having a particular preference for the physical appearance of one’s potential partner.

    I appreciate the wrapper is more important to some people, and some people are equally happy to be picked by such criteria. Likewise, I could choose to dislike the people who has preference in Asians. Either ways are the matter of personal choice and the bottom line is, it’s not a crime.

    I see the issue from a different angle however.

    [Update 1/8]
    > I noticed there was a lot of talk about stereotypes of submissive women

    The issue is, some people *impose* such stereotype onto the people with fitting physical appearance and treat them according to their fantasy, disregarding the problem they case to the receiver of such behaviour.

    I think that’s where the real issue of ‘racism and racial preference’ lies. Attracted to particular ethnic type isn’t much of an issue, but how it manifests can be.

    For the example of “stereotypes of submissive women”, if you take advantage of their submissive (or whatever convenient) cultural traits, the power balance is no longer mutual. One exploit another in the name of “open-mindedness” or “multiculturalism”.

    It’s like saying “I love animals, that’s why I eat them”. Making seemingly a friendly gesture while disregarding the welfare of the receiving side is an unwanted one-way communication that only benefits one side.

    It is a perverted and hidden form of racism, but racism nonetheless imo.

    I personally experience such insidious (and sometimes threatening) behaviour routinely while living in an EU country. Those who target me judge me by my physical appearance only. At work, in private circle, they are everywhere and I find it hard to avoid them no matter how careful I am.

    It is often the case that when I explicitly reject their advance, they turn vengeful as if they are entitled to my affection and somehow their disappointment is my fault.

    Remember, I DON’T KNOW them and THEY DON’T KNOW me to get personal. Regardless, when the receiver of such advance says NO, that should be it.

    Getting angry about it or lingering the same behaviour is nothing more than the sign of disrespect, and I could only see the basis of such behaviour is because I’m not “one of them”.

    Would they have the same attitude if a rejection came from their own people? I bet they’d have a second thoughts in continuing the offence.

    Then why is it OK to continue if that ‘NO’ came from an ethnic? Why they think it’s OK to subject me to such nuisance in the first place?

    Racism to exploit vulnerable social group – is my take.

    Coming back the argument of attraction, if both parties are happy with such attributes and pre-determined preferences, good for them.

    But one side is bothering the other because they think they can get away with such behaviour, then that amounts to discrimination, no matter how friendly and love-filled it might seem.

  22. 25

    I think people are now-a-days are trying to become too politically correct. I dont think as a species humans are racist, perhaps we feel more comfortable and share similarities with different races though. Might be human nature to want to feel connected and be able to relate to a wider/similar community. However, i do understand that there are individuals that are blatantly racist. It is a intriguing topic, thanks for bringing this subject up.

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