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Whitewashed

For much of my childhood, I remember my mother writing. She had scads of notebooks around, filled with her handwriting that I still could identify anywhere. She had a fascinating electric typewriter (yes, I said typewriter – remember those?) that I learned the qwerty keyboard on and played with at any available opportunity. I remember when she got a new typewriter and the old one became mine – oh joy! Mom wrote short stories and articles and submitted them to various magazines and other places. For a while she worked on a novel, and by then I was old enough to be her proofreader and we’d talk about the story as it grew. By then I was trying my hand at writing some of my own stuff. Mom is surely the number one reason I love words and why I idolize women of color who dare to write.

Mom did get a children’s book published. It was a sweet little story about my brother and I and our (my) pet bird. The things that happened in the story really happened, and she used our real names. I remember how very very exciting it was when a box with some of the published books came to our home. I was over the moon thrilled and so very proud. Some of my pride was misplaced, though – I think I was more jazzed about seeing my very own name in a real live book than I was by the fact that my mom had written it and gotten it published. Sorry about that, mom – I was ten.

The thing about the book, though. It were illustrated, simple line drawings, kids, parents and a parakeet. The parakeet, for whom the book was named (and the protagonist of the story, if you must know – yes, I was a secondary character BUT a character nonetheless) was on the cover of the book. But the people in the story were clearly white people. That was the first time I learned that authors have little or no control over what the book cover or illustrations look like. And of course that was one of my first lessons about the assumption of whiteness, whiteness as the “norm” for humanity, and then the more nuanced lessons about whiteness as “what people really want” or “what people really prefer” as in books with black people on the cover don’t sell, which is not to be confused with “black people don’t read” and/or “black people don’t buy books.”

Well.

All that to bring this to your attention. (h/t ABW and others)

Justine Larbalestier is a young adult fiction writer, and her newest publication, Liar, is about a dark skinned, nappy headed mixed race girl.

This is the U.S. cover of Liar.

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You can read Justine’s take in full here.

Here’s a snippet:

Covers change how people read books

Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed. I worked very hard to make sure that the fundamentals of who Micah is were believable: that she’s a girl, that she’s a teenager, that she’s black, that she’s USian. One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.

No one in Australia has written to ask me if Micah is really black.

I get that publishers want writers to write, and they most, if not all of the time, writers take a back seat to cover design and other illustrations. But to change the visual representation of the way the author describes characters, especially when, as Justine says, it is important to the way the book is read – well, who does that serve, really? The Australian cover, by the way, does not give a visual representation of Micah, the main character.

I’m gonna see if I can get the Australian version of the book.

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Sex, Lies and Photoshop.

This is a video suggesting magazines disclose when images of models are altered. I don’t hold out any hopes for that happening any time soon in the U.S.

But I have noticed something. I used to devour magazines – fashion magazines, beauty magazines, home and garden…. I loved having a big stack of shiny mags to while away an afternoon. I got away from partially because my time became more limited – I needed to spend my reading time on “serious” stuff… but also because magazines… basically are in the business of telling you how much you suck. You are not thin enough, pretty enough, your clothes aren’t fashionable enough, you’re not a good parent, etc. etc. etc.

So, I stopped with the magazines. (Full disclosure – I do buy magazines when I travel, and I do devote 1/2 hour (at least) every week to a trashy magazine. I’m not a saint, folks.) What I have noticed since I stopped reading magazines (especially fashion and beauty mags) is that I appreciate much much more the way real people look.

Real people. People who are no longer 20 years old. People who have some meat on their bones. People with bits that sag. People who don’t go to the hair salon (me). People who didn’t get braces when they were teenagers. People with big noses. People with scars. People grey hair, or no hair, or lots and lots of uncombed hair in fantastic colors. People with hairy ears. People with blue black skin.

People… real people… are beautiful, y’all.

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So here is a frame that is increasingly annoying and troubling. The idea that presence of the Obama family in the White House presents a new face to America about what black families are.

Black first family changes everything

I agree, wholeheartedly, that the images presented over generations of what black people and black families are have been severely limited and problematic. The article slants the piece in such a way, though, that focuses on pathologies in the black community as the only reality. It sets the Obama family up as the ones who will not only correct that notion, but also the ones that will straighten out black America. And yeah, I get that there is some of that going on and that it is good. I don’t want all the “role models” out there to be involved in sports or music. However, it has never been the case that that is where all the role models are, where all the successful black people are. The images that are chosen to portray us are drawn either from that stream – sports or music, or from the stream that shows us the poverty stricken criminals, you know, the ones that Bill Bennett wants to abort.

As one of the women quoted in the article says, “We don’t get to see black love.” She is right – we don’t get to see it. That does not mean it isn’t there, hasn’t been there, and won’t be there in the future. We don’t get to see it in the media because it is not shown. What passes for black love is too often fetishized and pathologized. We are not used to seeing black love, not because it does not exist, but because it does not fit into the narrow frame of who black people are, according to those who shape the images we see. And yes, I am well aware that sometimes those images are shaped by us – black people.

The black first family does not change everything, as the CNN headline asserts. Yes, I am glad – so glad to see them there. But what will change everything is not just the image of this successful, loving black family in the white house. What will begin to change some things, and then more things, and maybe work towards changing everything is making sure more people have the opportunity to achieve the things this family has achieved is to assure the basics of life that provide stability to every citizen. Things like health care, decent educational institutions that are adequately funded and serve all children well, and living wages. Supporting families so that they are able to get what they need to survive physically will go a long way in maintaining good psychological, emotional and spiritual health. And no, it’s not just about throwing money at problems. It is about building a national – no, a global consciousness that understands that within a society, individuals and individual family units are connected to one another and it is within the best interests of us all to tend to that interconnectedness. If a society decides to throw away a segment of their population (whether designated by race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, whatever) by first not acknowledging their humanity and from that denying them the rights and benefits of the society, then yes, things will go horribly wrong. Rugged individualism does not a healthy society make.

It is not until the very tail end of the article that we are given a glimpse of another reality:

Barbara McKinzie, international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, says she grew up in a small town in Oklahoma surrounded by black couples and an extended family of teachers and neighbors, who were knit together like the new first family.

She didn’t need to look at the Inauguration Day festivities to see a vibrant black family.

“It’s not new, but it appears new,” she says. “The president and his wife and children are not a novelty in the African-American community.

“It’s the only family I’ve known in my life.”

h/t Rachel’s Tavern

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SPEAK! Album

From Sudy

Speak! is a women of color led media collective and in the summer months of 2008, they created a CD compilation of spoken word, poetry, and song. This is the first self-named album.

With womyn contributors from all over the country, Speak! is a testament of struggle, hope, and love. Many of the contributors are in the Radical Women of Color blogosphere and will be familiar names to you. Instead of just reading their work, you’ll be able to hear their voices.

I can guarantee you will have the same reaction as to when I heard them speak, I was mesmerized.

Proceeds of this album will go toward funding mothers and/or financially restricted activists wanting to attend the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, MI this July. This is our own grassroots organizing at its finest with financial assistance from the AMC. We collaborated and conference called for months and here it is, ready for your purchasing.

In addition to these moving testaments, there will be a zine, featuring more of our work and a curriculum available to further process the meaning of each piece for yourself, education, or a group discussion. The possibilities are endless.

You get all of this for less than $20, you can order one for yourself or buy a gift card for friend which can be redeemed to buy the CD. Stay on your toes and look for more information come January 1, 2009. Only 200 copies are available.

Forward this promo vid widely and to the ends of your contact list. See the link here.

Much love.

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I am thinking about beauty, about acceptability, about the notion of real women, acceptable women, the impossibility of the ideal woman and the great distraction that happens when we focus so much on what we look like – and how nearly impossible it is in this culture to just look like what you look like, be happy with that because no one is going to judge you for it (but see, already it’s not just a simple matter of being judged for it and then saying I don’t care what other people think about me because what other people think about me can impact where I can live, the work I do, and that impacts my ability to make a living, etc. etc. etc.)

Remember this?

The distractions – when we are so focused on our own stuff, we can’t pay attention to anyone or anything else. We can’t be involved in the real work of caring for each other and the rest of the created order. There are women and girls whose lives are impacted by the choices I make.

(Greenpeace notes: Thanks to the staggering public support for our international Dove campaign in April 2008, Unilever has now agreed to play their part in saving the Paradise Forests of South East Asia. As the biggest single buyer of palm oil in the world, Unilever has a special responsibility to help clean up the industry that’s behind so much forest destruction.)

So it is good to be on guard regarding messages about female perfection. But I was always a little squicked out by the fact that the first message came from a corporation that sells beauty projects. Shouldn’t a response to such an ad be “Yes! I’m going to say no to the messages about what I should look like/smell like/be like and the products and corporations that make try to sell me this stuff! I’m opting out completely!” My guess is that people who have made that decision aren’t buying this stuff anyway.

I don’t want to be the beauty/femininity/humanity police anymore than I want anyone to police me.

The other morning my 17-year-old daughter asked me to French braid her hair. As we sat on the steps I realized I hadn’t done this for a long time. There was a time when I did it every day. When she was small she had a considerable mass of long, thick hair. We struggled over it regularly because of the mass and thickness and yes, the nappiness of it. I tried to never give the idea that there was something “wrong” with her hair. Eventually she decided she wanted to get her hair chemically relaxed, and she continues to. I’ve been down that road… the hot comb (straightening comb, for you old school folks) and the chemical relaxers.

My preference would be for her to wear it natural… but I don’t want to police what she does with her hair and her body. What is the line between preference and self hatred? Is self-hatred birthed in being told you look like a freak?

From the advice column Annie’s Mailbox, September 18:

During my daughter’s last year of high school, she talked about getting dreadlocks. I didn’t want her to graduate looking like a freak and spoil her chances of finding a decent job, not to mention that getting rid of dreads can be nearly impossible.

(Note – I don’t know what racial category this writer and her daughter fit into. The letter is actually about her mother-in-law undermining her authority, and letting the daughter get dreadlocks. I have worn my hair in locks for over ten years now, and I’m happy to say that I don’t look like a freak.)

Some women prefer straight hair. Some women prefer light skin.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

h/t Siditty

It’s a long video – I’ll note some highlights. There are many heartbreaking things going on here – the damage these women are doing to their bodies, the generational hatred of dark skin. Also heartbreaking, though, is the condemnation of these women by the audience members and the show host herself. They never deal with the reality that our society constantly gives the message “white is right.”

At 21:56 Tyra finally talks briefly about living in a racist society. But only for a couple of minutes – then it is quickly back to trashing the guests – even tricking them by having a “doctor” offer phony medical procedures that promise to lighten the skin, although with terrifying side effects. That is horrid. The fake procedures that they describe to the women include burning off the top layer of skin, undergoing a skin transplant – sending skin to Switzerland?

The focus remains on fixing these women, and not on fixing society. Again at 39:05 Tyra mentions society, but again quickly blames the women for having a sickness, an illness. They are crumbling under pressure that other black women don’t cave in to. I’m not a therapist, she says, but there is something else there. She encourages them to do some “self reflection.” I suppose that makes for better TV, but really, in the end, what does it solve?

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If you read blogs or blog yourself then you are probably looking for something other than what mainstream and corporate media offer.

I like Bitch magazine and they are in trouble. Watch the video, donate if you can, publicize widely.

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Seriously, go read John Ridley over at the Huffington Post, where he is schooling in Palin-guage.

From Volume 1:

Black teen pregnancies? A “crisis” in black America. White teen pregnancies? A “blessed event.”

If you grow up in Hawaii you’re “exotic.” Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, you’re the quintessential “American story.”

Similarly, if you name you kid Barack you’re “unpatriotic.” Name your kid Track, you’re “colorful.”

If you’re a Democrat and you make a VP pick without fully vetting the individual you’re “reckless.” A Republican who doesn’t fully vet is a “maverick.”

And from Volume 2 – The People’s Edition:

If you get 18 million people to vote for you in a national presidential primary, you’re a “phoney.” Get 100,000+ people to vote you governor of the 47th most populous state in the Union, you’re “well loved.”

SoyAA says: If you are biracial and born in a state not connected to the lower 48, America needs darn near 2 years and 3 major speeches to “get to know you.” If you’re white and from a state not connected to the lower 48, America needs 36 minutes and 38 seconds worth of an acceptance speech to know you’re “one of us.”

Go read it all….

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Via Sociological Images comes news of Ecko and their latest ad campaignHot Girls Make Great Clothes. The website is filled with images (photo and video) of barely dressed women “manufacturing” Ecko brand clothing. Yes, this campaign objectifies women and uses sex to sell clothes. What else is new?

More sickening than that is the ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ reference to places where really hot women and children work – sweatshops. Real women and real girls labor for meager, unsustainable wages in terrible conditions so that we can purchase and wear the latest…. hot styles.

A few facts about sweatshops:

Women make up to 90 percent of sweatshop labor. The poor working conditions they experience include being subject to sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.

Sweatshops violate the most basic labor laws including child labor, minimum wage, overtime and fire safety laws.

Working conditions also include no benefits, non-payment of wages, forced overtime, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, corporal punishment, and illegal firings.

Sweatshops flourish where there are pools of exploitable workers in desperate
conditions. The poorer the country, the more exploitable the people are.

However, sweatshops are not only found in “other” countries; they are right here in the U.S. – often the workers are recent and/or undocumented workers – again, people who are very vulnerable.

Workers who don’t know their rights or who have no good choices are at the mercy of the managers of these shops and the corporations who own them. For instance, pregnant women are fired instead of being given any type of leave. Women who are of childbearing age may be forced to take birth control or abort their pregnancies.

The free market allows corporations to seek out areas where they can pay miserably poor wages, wages too poor to allow workers to support their families comfortably, and poor enough to ensure profits for the companies at the expense of these families.

Corporations also seek out countries with unstable governments in order to lessen the possibility of being monitored and charged with human rights violations.

Workers can be fired or blacklisted if they try to defend their rights.

Some defend sweatshops and their practices by pointing out that the payment workers may receive is higher than the average national wage for workers in a particular country. Yes, people do have a right to make a living and if the opportunity presents itself to make a higher wage, certainly they should be free to seek the opportunity. However, human rights violations do not need to be part and parcel of such an opportunity. People should not be exploited and brutalized because they happen to live in a poor country (or live in a rich country where the poor are marginalized and/or treated as if they are not human).

Nor should such dire situations be mocked.

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Rush Limbaugh continues his contempt for anyone who is not… a blowhard, I guess:

On the August 20 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh asserted of attacks by Sen. John McCain against Sen. Barack Obama: “[S]ee, there are Democrats — the drive-bys” — a term Limbaugh uses to denote the national media — “are just so upset with these so-called ‘ferocious attacks.’ These have been benign. Even the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton ad was funny. It was benign.” He later added: “It’s — you know, it’s just — it’s just we can’t hit the girl. I don’t care how far feminism’s saying, you can’t hit the girl, and you can’t — you can’t criticize the little black man-child. You just can’t do it, ’cause it’s just not right, It’s not fair. He’s such a victim.”

But right now I can’t formulate a response better than this

Or this

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This post has been brewing for some time. Renee posted about black beauty yesterday and it made me wonder if I could finish this. Maybe this will end up being a bunch of loosely connected paragraphs, masquerading as a post. At any rate, I have started and deleted, started and deleted. I’ll commit to not deleting and see what happens.

I have a love/hate relationship with magazines, and right now the hate part is stronger than the love. It works out well, because I spend less money on magazines that way. This love/hate relationship extends even to the magazines that are supposed to be about me and the women who look like me. I still subscribe to Essence magazine mostly because I feel an obligation to support a magazine for black women. But oh how it disappoints. Since this is a post about beauty, and blackness, I will stick to that theme.

It is disappointing every month to flip through the pages and see ad after ad, article illustration after illustration, of more black women who come close to approximating the “ideal” woman – light skinned, straight hair, etc. I wanted to page through the latest issue as I was writing this post, but I have already recycled it. I know on the one hand that the magazine is catering to what the market wants, and that the real money that keeps them in business comes from advertising. And much of what they advertise is hair products – and it takes more product to keep black hair bouncing and behaving than to let it be free. So – more straight hair ads – more advertising revenue.

I am conflicted because I don’t want to argue with black women and the choices we make about our hair. I wear my hair happily nappy… but I didn’t always. And never say never… perhaps one day I will go back to pressing my hair but my guess is that I probably won’t. Once I let my hair do what it wanted to do – to roll up into kinks and crimps when faced with moisture, the strands coiling around and around one another until they turned into locks impenetrable by any comb – until then, I didn’t look like myself.

So choices are good. I like that I can wear my hair the way I do and mostly not be regarded as some sort of freak, even though there are frequent reminders that a lot of people really would prefer it if we black women toed the line and beat our hair into submission in order to be … what? Respectable?

Lots of rumination on this theme:

This:

Why do we have this double standard? Why is it what is pretty on those lighter than me, is considered ugly on my dark skin?

Why is ok to have “black” attributes, but not ok to be black?

this

Women of color and beauty carnival
This Carnival is intended to focus on beauty and what it means to and about women of color. In particular, I would like to see discussion go beyond a focus on the ways in which women of color can internalize self hatred to the ways in which women and communities of color recognize and celebrate beauty.

for real this

The fact that pretty/not pretty play out so often among women is no accident. This is not about adornment ( what makeup you choose, what clothes you wear etc) and it often bothers teh ever living hell out of me every time that lipstick/ non lipstick discussion comes up. It is assumed so often that participating in adornment which can be cultural, religious, ethnic, and powerful., is about pleasing men and means one thing.

In my life , adornment beauty practices are very much about taking care of myself and asserting my right to exist not as a second class citizen.

and certainly this

The more I think about this black women and beauty thing (and this is probably related to my growing older so also having to think about the white norm of beauty but the culture of worship of youth – worshipping their beauty, mind you and not so much youth as persons to be respected and listened to… but that’s another post for another day) the more I think about it the more I realize it’s not really so much about wanting to be thought of as beautiful, or wanting to be desired. It is not wanting the gaze of men which is another part of the whole love/hate relationship with magazines and other media targeting women – they all want me to attract get and keep a man – as if the whole sum of my womanly existence is about … men.

I was riding the bus home the other day. I usually like to sit toward the front, but those seats were taken so I moved to the rear and sat in a row about 3 up from the very back. Across the aisle and one row up were two young white women, high school age, they looked to be. They were coming home from an afternoon at the mall. About one stop after I got on, a white man who looked to be in his late twenties got on the bus, looked around for a place to land and seated himself across the aisle from the two young women. He immediately began to strike up a conversation with them – where were they coming from, what were there names, what school did they go to – all that. All of that with that look in his eye, you know – that gaze. One the one hand, what seemed to be frank appreciation for these young, beautiful women, and on the other, his absolute confidence that they wanted to engage him in conversation. They talked back and forth for a few minutes, him always asking questions and they always answering (and me thinking – you know you don’t have to talk to them, don’t you?) and I was even beginning to think I should intervene because it was starting to feel creepy when the question I knew he’d get around to came: So do you girls have boyfriends? They laughed and one said we don’t go out with boys. That statement was quickly amended to assert they didn’t go out with girls either, … dating wasn’t worth all the drama. Now they talked more and they revealed that one of the girls had gotten pregnant and recently had the baby; the father had walked away. Instantly the man’s body language changed, he turned away from them, his face lost its animation; he just plain wasn’t interested any longer. (An interesting side note, perhaps another topic for another day – the young women insisted several times that they were not “white trash.”)

I’m glad I’m not expected to play those games any longer. I’m glad to go unnoticed in these kinds of situations.

But what I do want recognized is the equal humanity of my body to that of what is thought to be the “norm” – whatever trope we are using for norm – the blond, blue eyed, perky girl next door, the all American boy … whatever it is that is acknowledged as real, as valuable, as worthy of having life… that’s what I want. I want an end to the hyper criminalization and hypersexualization of black bodies. And I know that female bodies of all colors are sexualized – look at those girls on the bus, look at any magazine, tv show, movie, the daggone Olympics and we know that women’s bodies are marked as sexual objects.

But for women of color there is a difference. While white women are certainly imaged as sexual objects, there are other images – among them images of purity, innocence, goodness, the girl next door, etc. As men of color are frequently imaged as animalistic and criminal, women of color are frequently (primarily?) imaged as animalistic and/or hypersexual. The subtext is – if bad things happen to us, it’s our own fault.

If video doesn’t play, click here.

This 1941 cartoon abounds with stereotypes, but I’m particularly interested in the “sexy” washerwoman as she is depicted over and against the other black residents of Lazytown (!). The sexy woman has less pronounced black features… she is lighter skinned, her lips are thinner, she looks more “human.” She is not heavy, like the washer woman she comes in to show how to do her job, and she doesn’t really live there. She is not quite one of them, but she is still black enough to be “other”. But she does not go outside the boundary of the prescribed roles of black women – asexual caretaker or good time floozy.

When I googled the phrase “beautiful black women,” the 8 google ads along the side were the following:

Free Nasty Black Videos

Beautiful Black Women – Meet your Future Black Wife

Watch Black Porn Movies

Big Juicy Ebony Booties

Black Women Seeking Sex

Women Photo Personals

Find Black Women

Beautiful Black Women – White Men Dating Black Women

By the way, white women fared only a little better under the google ad system – under “beautiful white women” there were 3 sidebar ads:

Dirty Cheating Wives

White Women – Meet White Women now

Mature Women

Under the phrase “beautiful women” there was simply one ad:

Are you a hottie?

*****

When the radio talk show host didn’t like Cynthia McKinney’s hair, his comments were “She looks like a ghetto slut”

The markers here regarding her presumed identity are, well, remarkable.

Ghetto. Poor, black, uneducated.
Shiftless, lazy, undeserving of respect.
One who is best left alone.

Slut. Wantonly sexual.
Without morals.
Desirable for one reason only.

This is not about wanting to be admired or desired by random individuals. This is about wanting to live and to have my humanity acknowledged, and the humanity of all people. We are taught in this culture that if you disdain something, you don’t need to let it live. It frightens me to death that in a small Texas town, teachers are allowed to carry guns to school.

I wanted to know what kind of demographics were in the area … because I am suspicious. (Just because you’re paranoid….and all that.) Here’s Wikipedia’s description of the county:

As of the census of 2000, there were 14,676 people, 5,537 households, and 3,748 families residing in the county. The population density was 15 people per square mile (6/km²). There were 6,371 housing units at an average density of 7 per square mile (3/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 78.17% White, 8.86% Black or African American, 0.66% Native American, 0.63% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 9.73% from other races, and 1.91% from two or more races. 20.54% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 5,537 households out of which 32.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.10% were married couples living together, 10.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.30% were non-families. In 2000, there were 136 unmarried partner households: 129 heterosexual, 3 same-sex male, and 2 same-sex female.

My search also landed me on a white supremaci$t site, which I will not link to. There was a discussion about the school district’s decision… where commenters were saying things like:

….if it’s a mostly black school, I can see why they want to be armed.

…maybe the best idea is to have lots of armed security to protect teachers and students from black and brown thugs.

That’s right. If the children look like mine, arm yourselves.

Or… recognize their beauty… their humanity.

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