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Politics » Michael Eric Dyson blasts Cornel West: ‘You ain’t that important’

Michael Eric Dyson blasts Cornel West: ‘You ain’t that important’

Over the past several months, Dr. Cornel West has been vocal in his disapproval of President Barack Obama, as well as Dr. West’s fellow intellectuals and cultural commentators Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Rev. Al Sharpton. Speaking last year in regard to President Obama’s 2013 inauguration, Dr. West stated, “We saw, of course, the coronation of the bonafide house Negro of the Obama plantation, our dear brother Al Sharpton, supported by the Michael Dysons and others who’ve really prostituted themselves intellectually in a very ugly and vicious way.”

As he spoke about the state of black intellectualism at Rev. Sharpton’s National Action Network Conference yesterday (April 10th), Dr. Dyson addressed Dr. West’s criticisms.

“The prophetic temptation is to believe your voice is the only voice,” said Dr. Dyson. “[You think that] your vision is the only vision. That’s what makes you a genius at a certain level. That’s the nature of genius — but you’re tripping, because you’re not the only one.”

“I don’t see [humility] in a lot of Negroes talking. They act like it’s ‘my way or the highway’ — you ain’t Frank Sinatra!” he continued. “Howard Thurman said, ‘You can go to the Atlantic Ocean, you can dip your glass into the Atlantic Ocean and it may be full of the Atlantic Ocean — but it ain’t all of the Atlantic Ocean. So stop thinking that your way is the only way. It may be a great way, it may be a powerful way that works for you, but one size don’t [sic] fit all. So be honest and humble in genuine terms — not the public performance of humility masquerading a huge ego. No amount of hair can cover that.”

After insinuating that he was referring to Dr. West, Dr. Dyson spoke about his contemporary directly.

“I’ve probably known him longer than anybody on this panel. Hung out with him,” Dyson said. “I’ve been a victim of his vicious assaults in public. I’ve held my powder. That ain’t my usual nature. [Dr. Farah Griffin] called me up and I listened to Farah. Because she loves us both [and was] trying to negotiate a cease of hostilities. But I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t hurt for you to call me a sellout because I disagree with you. You can be ‘ride-or-die,’ but while you’re riding — see who your vehicle is rolling over.”

Dr. Dyson voiced his belief that Dr. West’s criticisms of President Obama stem from his personal vendetta against the president after West felt that he had been “snubbed.” Dr. West did not receive an invitation to Obama’s 2013 inauguration after attending the president’s first inauguration in 2009. One of West’s major criticisms has centered on his belief that the White House is not providing access to those working for civic and legislative causes.

“With [former President] Bill Clinton, you’re rhapsodizing about access [to the White House] — if access is a problem, it was a problem then. Not because you didn’t get a ticket to go to the inauguration for Obama!” Dr. Dyson stated emphatically. “I’m not talking about just [West], he ain’t the only one. But since he’s been public about it, here’s my response to [his criticism]: I love you, but you can’t talk about love and act unlovingly. It’s the personal assault on Obama that I found problematic, not the principled critique. I’m not mad at principled critique, but you still could be wrong. But when you start indicting my soul like I’ve given my soul over to Obama or the devil — now you’re tripping. You ain’t that important. You’re not God to be able to leverage the divine assignment of privilege or punishment.”


  1. Montez DeCarlo on April 11, 2014 at 9:30 am

    I’ve followed both Dr. West’s and Dr. Dyson’s commentaries and their ultimate climb to the public foray for over 20 years. While I agree with Dr. West’s underlying cause, I believe that his intellect is clouding his common sense. President Obama is a strategist with calculating precision and timing. To expect that he would go all in for “Black” causes or Dr. West’s causes day one i.e. during his first term, is severely shortsighted and self-centered. Obama has a plan and he is executing it appropriately. Thanks to Dr. Dyson for putting Dr. West in his place. That’s Detroit at its best!

    • a non on April 11, 2014 at 11:50 am

      I use to respect West at one point for intellectual acumen. I see him now as an educated buffoon who constantly uses his public platform to disparage the man duly elected to the highest office in America. I believe he could be a positive force in building and organizing coalitions against the party trying de-legitimize this President!

      • watcher3442 on April 15, 2014 at 8:15 am

        Obama is human. He’s a masonic human and no different than Bush. Different puppet, but the same strings.

      • jules on February 10, 2016 at 6:07 pm

        I Agree !!!

    • Debby Burton on April 11, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      I totally agree. West and Tavis Smiley were simply “whining like little 8!7(#3$” because our President did not invite them to the inanugration , or, in Tavis’ case show up on his “State of Black Americe Conference, while he was in the middle of his historic Presidential run; for theie purpose of exploiting the relationship. Had respect for both but now totally disrespect these “Narrow minded, self-centered Brothers” Bravo Dr. Tyson. Well said.

    • Aqiyl Aniys on April 11, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      I am glad to have a black president but still he represents s system that has and will undermine the constitutional rights of its citizens. I think West in right in this area, but like Dyson says, there is more than one way which all leads in different directions. Dyson’s is just leading where the system is leading. I love all of these intellectual brothers.

    • Watcher3442 on April 15, 2014 at 8:13 am

      He hasn’t done anything for black causes in his second term either.

      • boiler8292 on April 15, 2014 at 6:29 pm

        With today’s Republican Party in Congress, what would you have him do for “black causes” that would become law? Presidents are not Kings that can rule by decree. I think that he can be too narrow and I don’t like how he’s on the defensive more than I’d like, but the idea of “he hasn’t done anything for black causes” betrays a willful flat not paying attention to how bad Washington has become and how difficult it is to get ANYTHING passed, much less measures as specific as you want.

  2. anti cracker on April 11, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    fuk cornel west and this testicle loving boule obama supporter.
    can anyone of you tell me what the fuk has obama, al rat sharpton or any of these so called leaders got done for the rest of us.
    go look at what that fraud yeah i said it, fraud rep. john lewis said about CIVIL RIGHTS(who is civil and why his rights).
    america jobs are disappearing and who do you think get hurt the most? not these boule negroes.
    understand something black americans, whites,black immigrants, latins, asians hate you.
    free h rap brown aka Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin a real black leader.

    • SpiderChuckJones on April 12, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      Thing is you can’t depend on anybody to get it done. you have get off your ass do it! I’m sure as hell not going to sit around and wait for Obama to make things right for us. We’ve got to do it ourselves.

      • anti cracker on April 13, 2014 at 4:39 pm

        why did the people fuck did people vote for this undercover pillow biter?
        i bet you voted for him.
        these crackers get all type of government funds and contracts but you want me to pull myself up my boot strap with no boots.
        so sick if you negroes siding with the enemy.
        free Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin

        • Dorkhorrific on November 22, 2014 at 7:37 pm

          Homophobia–now that’s real leadership, amirite?

          And don’t forget the implicit misogyny that no “real man” could marry and stay married to a strong, beautiful, accomplished, successful Black woman unless the marriage was a sham.

    • jules on February 10, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      You sound like someone INSANE !!!

  3. DennisCLatham on April 11, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    This is just the pot calling the kettle black

    until I see those who care more for our CHILDREN, YOUTH and YOUNG ADULTS – all of these so called scholars continue on in their places as they seize their moments to comply with massa and his white supremacy agendas …. west ? is just as much of a house kneegrow as all the rest.

    Until you start protecting the inner city dwellers from:
    1.) crooked parents who think they know everything but don’t know diddlyt squat or the first thing about raising any children to CONQUER and OVER COME white supremacy – I have no sympathy as they attempt to show off their credentials in mainstream media to bamboozle those with their same skin color as they play on the emotions of the people.

    2.) crooked school systems that don’t give a damn about them – because they won’t come together on their own and COMMAND and DEMAND better for their CHILDREN, YOUTH and YOUNG ADULTS – obviously because they are so full of self destruction and self hatred – it’s all they have to offer to their CHILDREN, YOUTH and YOUNG ADULTS

    3.) pimps behind the pulpits – who get little or no opposition – because their congregants, flocks and systems protect them – because they LOVE, PRAISE and WORSHIP man more than they do GOD – that’s why so many pulpit adulterers, fornicator’s and pedophiles are so protected by their own flock.

    4.) crooked government and crooked law enforcement from raping and stripping inner city dwellers from all of their resources to get their minds and spirit together

    5.) and educate pimps who play on the emotions of the people to get them all riled up – with all this talk against whitey and no action …. against themselves for putting themselves in these situations – and yet – they don’t even have the guts to start a revolution to RAISE UP, TEACH and TRAIN on how to CONQUER and OVERCOME the evils that are against inner city dwellers and those who came from the inner city.

    It will reamin as it is and continue to get worse ….and these educated pimps continue to make big money – complaining, crying and whining about the problems – because they fear massa too much – to put PROVEN SOLUTIONS INTO ACTION.

    • SpiderChuckJones on April 12, 2014 at 11:49 pm

      Now your talking Dennis.

  4. SamuelRossLee on April 11, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    As academics and public intellectuals go, this is a sorry response to a legitimate critique leveled by Cornel West of our president and his administration.

    Somewhere along the line, Dyson decided to appeal to the least common denominator and hang his fruit very low so for the sake (it seems) of mass appeal. And that’s fine for a person who is merely a public speaker or a media “star”. But Dyson is suppose to be a scholar, not merely a public speaker, but a public intellectual.

    His response to criticism of his ideas should be a critique or the critique. That’s what scholars do, even when they feel the initial critique has turned “personal”, their only legitimate response is to defend their ideas, not their bruised egos. Dyson here is guilty of what he faults West for, responding from his ego and not from his mind, to defend his person and not his ideas. If he feels (knows) that he has better ideas, he would do best to defend them against West’s inferior ones.

    Doing anything else is really a concession that West’s ideas really are the superior ones.

    • Rollo Tamasi on April 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm

      “Somewhere along the line, Dyson decided to appeal to the least common denominator and hang his fruit very low”

      “house Negro of the Obama plantation”

      Whose words are those?

      All of your condemnations of Mr. Dyson could be also applied to Mr. West. But, you directed all of your outrage towards Mr. Dyson. That is the big tip of the hand that your poor attempt to seem unbiased could not mask.

      “Dyson here is guilty of what he faults West for”

      So are you. Around and around it goes. And again, you fault Dyson and not West. Very transparent.

      • SamuelRossLee on April 11, 2014 at 3:24 pm

        Why you assume that I was trying to “seem” anything is beyond me AND my comments. I wrote what I wrote in a very straightforward manner. There is nothing opaque about my comment.

        My statement was MEANT as a criticism of Dyson’s “critique” of West. If you think that my criticism applies to West as well, that’s fine for you to say, of course. But to accuse me of “trying” to be anything more than what I clearly said, hence accusing me of some sort of duplicity is without merit or integrity.

    • John Day on April 11, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      I think you’ve confused Dr. Dyson’s response regarding his personal character to Dr.West’s “academic” critique. Dr.Dyson addressed Dr. West’s personal attack on his character. No matter how eloquently stated, a personal insult is still a personal insult and should have been addressed by Dr. Dyson.

    • boiler8292 on February 10, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      What are the “superior ideas” that are actually possible to achieve? His sound great in a graduate school seminar but in the world facing the hating of the Republicans for what Obama has tried to do, what West prefers is seemingly impossible.

  5. woodarddi on April 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    I agree whole-heartedly with Dr. Dyson, who has always been a class act. I lost so much respect for Dr. West and Mr. Smiley when they started acting like spoiled brats because Obama, who was running for the presidency at the time, could not rearrange his campaign trail schedule to accommodate their schedule. They have been on some hater type of #$^&* every sense. They are the ones that saddens me. They don’t begin to know (and at the rate they are going will never know) what all Obama is dealing with and how skilled he has to be to try please so many people. Obama is handling his business triumphantly as far as I am concerned. Any other brother would have already shot a few republican’ts yes they are Republicants

    • Craig on April 11, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      u wont be saying that after he leaves office u will be like, this dude aint did nothing for me but did everything for the enemy.

  6. Mercedes Diane Griffin Forbes on April 11, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    I personally think Cornel West may be suffering from dementia or some sort of mental degradation due to his age. His logic and reasoning has severely declined over the years. I think there is some merit to his argument that only some types of black intellectuals will be granted a seat at the table but his approach to the discussion is all wrong. I think 20 years ago he would have been able to put forth a more sound argument and a healthy discussion about race and power could have followed. Now we have a sad display of the few black intellectuals with a public presence infighting.

    • Birgitta Johnson on April 12, 2014 at 9:53 am

      I was thinking the same thing. He is contradicting his own early philosophies and methods. He’s very mean and bitter. There’s very little analytical critique but lost of viscousness and hurtfulness. It is sad. And very hard to be proud of him any more.

      • Vegancheese on April 21, 2015 at 7:24 pm

        Which Cornel West have you been listening to?

    • Vegancheese on April 21, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      A sad display? Look, lady… intellectuals have NEVER gotten along. It’s what happens when you throw a bunch of disparate ideas and egos into the mix. West and Dyson are university professors with public personas. I’m not saying you are, but a lot of people keep referring to them as black leaders. They never even claimed that title for themselves. And, btw, this is nothing new. Go back to the 60s. Do you know how many falling-outs there were between black leaders/intellectuals? And, I’m not even talking about ideogies that are at odds, like Malcolm vs. Martin, I’m talking about people in the same camp, like, say, King and Abernathy… or even before, with WEB Dubois vs basically every other black intellectual of the time. The only time you have a consensus of agreement is with those in power, who represent or identify w/the established order and status quo.

  7. K. T. Liberato on April 11, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    With the exception of a few comments here it seems that point of this piece is missed. Mr. Dyson’s issue is that West’s analysis of individual’s character is unwarranted and gets away from the real issue, which is a concrete political analysis of the Obama administration. I hate when Mr. West makes those personal remarks. However, his critique of the Obama administration is spot on. The problem is that we spend too much time critiquing individual administrations, when in fact it is the policies of those administrations that need be critiqued in word and in mobilization from the roots up. It is a symptom of our individualistic ideology that we focus on individuals and look to them for guidance to the problems that are collective in nature. Mr. Dyson has long fallen into this “liberal” group of commentators who have not been willing to use their position as public intellectuals to provide the radical critiques of U.S. society needed to unveil the workings of power from those in power. Mr. West has more when it comes to this.

  8. Craig on April 11, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    They still talking about Cornel and Tavis being snubbed smh, that aint the case, black people have been lied to an is letting Obama off the hook, now its too late he dont even need u, when he goes maybe yall will awake from your stupor, and yes I voted for Obama the 1st time and I didnt vote for anyone the second time cause I saw what was up. Obama is worse than Bush in my opinion although the sad thing is he was still the right man to be president at the time but that is no reason to not hold him accountable,at least Bush was a mans man wrong or right, Obama is just a puppet who rides the fence wrong or right, but we must remember no matter how old America is its a baby nation an Obama is just the 1st with dark skin, we cant sit around waiting for the government though, but lets hope the next black president will have testicular fortitude.

    Cornel West is right to criticize, and Dyson is looking more an more like a blow hard. Cause if Obama was really for black people I think he would be dead already and he knows it, u dont sit in Jeremiah Wrights church for 20 years an learn nothing, and the way he dropped his pastor showed his lack of loyalty, an now hes a professional fence rider.

  9. Justice on April 11, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    He told West to shut the hell up and stop acting like a fool.

  10. Rev. Marlin on April 11, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Michael Eric Dyson is one of my favorite public commentators today, however I agree with Dr. West in this debate. I don’t always agree with Cornell West’s language or approach, but when Al Sharpton said he would never publicly disagree with the president, he gave up his moral authority. Preachers need to reserve their unfettered allegiance only to the Truth (as they understand it). No politician should EVER be given a free pass from critical, moral engagement. I believe like Dr. West that Dr. King would be appalled at Sharpton’s statement and how he has failed to call out President Obama on some of his decisions. The “house negro” comment by West was below the belt. But you have to admit, the man (West) knows how to deliver a point in a memorable way that stirs people to reckon with it. Dyson’s argument that West is speaking from “sour grapes” over not being invited to the inauguration is the height of ridiculousness and he knows it. Dr. West has an unassailable position: “any preacher or public intellectual who says they will give any politician or any party a free pass from criticism is morally impotent and politically dangerous!” I’ll hitch my wagon to Dr. West on this one!

  11. E_Joyce on April 11, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Actually if more people would look past the surface, they’d find out Tavis Smiley and Cornell West are owned and operated by Walmart via Feeding America. #gotbookstosell

  12. 1-877-929-7168 on April 12, 2014 at 12:43 am

    call now,

  13. Reallytruly on April 12, 2014 at 2:18 am

    I think they should all STFU.

  14. eblacx7 on April 12, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Wow….all this intellectual power and I see that underlying critique my Dad always warned me of. We will remain our own worst enemy due to ego and pride no matter how esteemed. A party of three will always have at least one viable member assassinating two.

  15. Mosi on April 12, 2014 at 7:49 am

    Cornel West ain’t God but he has a point about Obama, reaction to snub or not, any fool can see that Al Sharpton has tempered his critique if circumstances regarding war and poverty and how all that is goibg on under Obama, excludes Black’s from effective inclusion for being lifted out of the disinfranchisement that he did not create but is doing nothing about. He may have been slighted and is reacting on some level to that, but his critique as I said is on poibt. I didn’t even like the first black president, bill clinton, I am not going to cover for the second one….maybe one day we will get a first one, who ubderstands the bkack anerican exoerience. Al wanted a job and acess, he sounds like a preacher hollering loud, every week day, Eric wants a job too…on TV.

    • Mosi on April 12, 2014 at 7:53 am

      forgive my typos, I can’t edit after the fact on this tabet

  16. leb1 on April 12, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Finally SOMEONE said it. Dr. West is simply ONE voice of many. But as Mr. Dyson said. He ain’t all THAT important.

  17. Zappa Montag on April 12, 2014 at 11:23 am

    I think that Cornell West has been correct with his criticisms, but his language has detracted from the message. In other words, he should stop using antiquated and divisive terms like “house negro”, and find a better way to continue to expose Obama and his followers for their role in promoting human suffering, and militarism in general.

  18. Gary Orfield on April 12, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Two very gifted and eloquent people who care very deeply about justice with the power to reach multitudes should not be wasting time on a feud in the midst of a deepening social crisis which is likely to get worse after the congressional elections.

  19. Ashay Mathieu on April 13, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    If Obama is the “House Negro of the Obama Plantation,” then Mr. Cornel West is the “Uncle Tom” of the twenty-frist century! There is always going to be one negro that is going to say publically exactly what the dominant ruling class wants to here from the mouths of “black folks.” Somebody needs to remind Mr. West of his history on African diaspora enslavement, just because it is a “plantation” does not mean that the work of liberation is not going on. We have history to support that while blacks were appeasing the gods of enslavement on the Mr. West’s “plantation” the underground railroad was being formed and constructed. The “Uncle Tom” rhetorical ciritisms by Mr. West serves to degrade and set us (blacks) back politically. Just be quiet, if all you can do is critize Obama and other black intellectuals. However, for Cornal West that is safe place for his public behavoir, as long as black intellectuals are debating among themselve and on critizing Obama’s administrating then there is not cause for alarm or ugency among white folks to do anything differently and certainly not share their wealth or power. The Cornal West critisms about the grand narratives of white folks about the dealing with a “Black Administration” where is that on the front page or on-line of any major publication. The Mr. Wests of the world knows they could not get away with publically critizing the Republicans or speaking words of liberating to the black community. They would shut there asses down in a “hot dog minute”

  20. DatBus on April 13, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    oK I’m sure Cornell is not without faults, but who is Dr. Dyson to accuse anyone of vicious (verbal) public assaults? That’s part of his whole schtick.

  21. Ryan Mack on April 16, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Instead of us airing our differences in public, we have to realize we’re all the same family. And when you have a family squabble, you don’t get out on the sidewalk. If you do, everybody calls you uncouth, unrefined, uncivilized, savage. If you don’t make it at home, you settle it at home; you get in the closet — argue it out behind closed doors. And then when you come out on the street, you pose a common front, a united front. And this is what we need to do in the community, and in the city, and in the state. Malcolm X

  22. LoveasLove on April 20, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    Oh stop it! Obama is a WAR CRIMINAL and to pretend he is anything other than that is to trample on the civil rights legacy and make a mockery of our ancestors who died fighting against the very same brutal perverted racist system that Obama is upholding at all costs. The silence of black leaders during this unprecedented age of unjust wars, mass surveillance and destruction of civil liberties under Obama is shameful as the illegal racist drone war continues against brown black poor communities ONLY overseas. To come to Obama’s defense as if he is somehow a victim is to protect your rapist from his crimes. ENOUGH!

    • Vegancheese on April 21, 2015 at 7:27 pm

      Wow… that was quite a nonsensical tyrade. Congrats.

  23. Eric L. Wattree on November 25, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are two of the biggest hypocrites that the Black community has ever produced. The talk “love” and practice “hatred;” they speak of concern for the poor, but service Walmart, one of THE most prolific abuser of the poor in America, hands down; they talk about justice, and constantly promote the interest of the GOP, the domestic enemy of the United States.


    • Eric L. Wattree on November 25, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Poverty Pimps and Black Suffering

      Many Black people have bought into a philosophy that was introduced into our thinking by poverty pimps. They’ve convinced many Black people that we are impotent and can’t do anything for ourselves. I know many people who suffer from that malady. Poverty Pimps introduced that into our thinking so we would feel that we needed to hire them to the very lucrative job of Black Ambassador to ‘the White Man’ (the White establishment). That’s been big business every since Martin and Malcolm died.

      What Black people need to understand is that we don’t need one voice speaking for millions, we need millions speaking with one voice; and we don’t need one brain thinking for millions, we need millions of brains thinking in concert. Black people also need to RE-LEARN that the only thing we need from the White man is for him to stay the hell out of our way. Yes, we want our piece of America’s pie, but whinin’ ain’t the way to get it. The only way that we’re EVER going to obtain justice, dignity, and all of the other things that we are due in this world, is to become strong enough to demand it, and competent enough to hold on to it. And the Black community will NEVER be fully viable, until we embrace that clear and simple reality.

      We need to stop talking about what we CAN’T do, and start thinking about what we CAN do – and we can do any damn thing we decide that we want to.

      Eric L. Wattree


  24. spookywhite on April 21, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Michael Eric Dyson vs. Cornel West….summed up:

  25. spookywhite on April 21, 2015 at 10:29 am
  26. Sportsbruh on April 24, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    If Cornell West was not all that IMPORTANT, why did Dyson take a Whole YEAR to write his scathing report in an Elitist White Racist Magazine? Besides, Dyson too is guilty of dodgy Academic scholarship. I am not feeling Dyson since he TURNCOATED under the age of Obama. Today’s young Black men are MARKED for death now more than ever. And he takes his pen out and DENIGRATE a brother in an Elitist White Racist Magazine, Because ones like this and the other Black news magazines are too pitiful.

  27. SonoftheSun on June 18, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    I am reminded of a book I read that detailed the history of civil rights, illustrating how there was always two Black leaders, pitted against one another for the title of HNIC. A simple understanding of the dynamics of true power, as demonstrated in America, will reveal that the system rewards (through media coverage as well as protection) the people who represents tge interests of the elite. The TRUE leaders are always underground, marginalized, and alienated. With this being said, as long as gentrification, police brutality, poverty, mass incarceration, systemic injustice, institutional racism, pitiful school systems, and weapons of media distraction exist, it remains an exercise in futily to even discuss ANY so called leader, especially one not dedicated to eradicating these injustices in a meaningful impacting manner!

  28. Me on March 13, 2016 at 10:45 am

    For those complaining about POTUS, why don’t they run for something and see how they can affect change instead of crying and whining…

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