Controversial Post: Why Is Vintage So White? - Part 2

Flashback Summer: Controversial Post - Why Is Vintage so White? - Part 2

This is a continuation of a controversial post published yesterday.  If you haven't already, please go to the first post to learn the intention behind creating this post and the first half of the questions for the panel.  Feel free to join in the discussion below with your own respectful viewpoints!

As a refresher, here are the lovely ladies on the panel!

Carla - blogger at "Tiny Angry Crafts" | Nora - blogger at "Nora Finds" | Daffny - blogger at "A Vintage Nerd" | Angelique Noire - pinup model | Candace - pinup model

Since you've already read the background info for this pair of controversial posts, let's get back to the questions!

Does there seem to be a common theme of why others of your race don't wear vintage? (This may also tie into the culture you identify with, which is often connected to race. Also, maybe there isn't a common theme! That's okay to say, too!) 

Angelique: There are many Black people that wear vintage or styles based on the 1940s/50s.  They don't typically frequent events catering to the vintage community, but that doesn't mean they are non-existent...If you look, you can see the influence of classic 40s/50s style being interpreted in a modern way by many Black women. It's just a matter of how you interpret their style. For example, when you see a Caucasian woman wearing a turban, midi skirt, a button down blouse with cat eyeliner and red lips, many can see the influence of a popular 1940s/50s fashion style. You see the exact same style on a Black women, people automatically think she is doing something solely based on African influence because of the turban. I have so many Black girls and women tell me that I am their inspiration because they adore the style. 

Candace: Two words: Not cool. It’s okay to like and listen to Beyonce and Nikki Minaj, it’s okay to listen to R&B and hip-hop but don’t you dare wear seam-stockings and say how much you love Dita von Teese and Dean Martin. Those two don’t mix. I think it has to do with not being brave enough to be who you are. I love artists like Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, and India.Arie they are neo-soul R&B singers, and are brave enough to wear their natural hair and to be fully clothed and show talent and not skin. I like women like that. Unfortunately, mainstream has dominated so much so that if you wear vintage or want to you get frowned upon. Especially, for the younger girls they find it hard to and sacrifice who they are and want to be because of looks and bad mouthing. When has liking James Mason and Elvis ever been a crime? Why is it horrible to be classy and leave mystery behind?

Carla: I've asked some of my friends why don't they want to dress vintage, and the response is usually either "I don't see anyone who looks like me doing it." , "I don't want to get teased " "Oh, my people didn't dress nice back then." And I've seen some people posting on sites 'Oh white kids who emulate that style are harkening a caricature of the past, and are erasing the struggles of PoC.'

Carla - source
 Nora: What we mainly call vintage pieces are of Western style, but vintage actually encompasses a whole bunch of historical pieces whether they are vintage batik, vintage kimono, or vintage cheongsams. But what we wear nowadays are mostly American/European vintage so a lot of minorities don't feel like they can relate. My grandma grew up in Indonesia under Dutch colonization so she wore the kind of vintage we wear now. But if you are from mainland China I can understand that you don't "get" vintage. Also, Chinese people (or maybe all Asians) have this believe that new is always better, so they tend to not like the idea of wearing second hand clothes. I think it's because vintage clothing reminds them of the past, which in my culture is usually something we don't like to talk about. We Chinese like to move on with things and improve ourselves, so past sometimes just feels like something that holds you back.

Daffny: I find those within the Latino culture here in New York think its cool what I do and do not judge me for it at all.
Nora - source
Are there elements of the vintage community that are, at the least, not friendly toward people of color or, at the worst, just plain insulting? What are they? If you could, how would you change these things? (Meaning, how would you prefer these situations be handled?) 

Nora: I personally do not think there are things that are insulting. But I'm probably not easily insulted. Heck, it's a think line between appreciate a culture and adopting it as a costume. What about this year's Met Gala?! Is it offensive to wear chopsticks in your hair or wear cheongsams?! I don't think any one person can represent a whole racial group to say what's offensive and what's not. Obviously Edwardian pieces are less minority friendly because they simply aren't a part of our history, but the Western fashion did make its way to other countries pretty early in the 1920s (like mogas or Japanese flappers).

Candace: There have been a few guys on my FB page (Black Pinup Models) that have said some down right vile things that I had to delete and ban. Some see black women as exotic creatures and that’s it, no brains, no personality, I had to get rid of them as well. We’re more than that.

Carla: I haven't personally experienced this, but I've heard stories of Black people being treated rudely at rockabilly festivals. I find this entire situation very odd, considering rockabilly was a subset of rock and roll, which has roots in African American blues music.

Angelique:   I think it is downright insulting when people wear clothing and/accessories with the Confederate Flag. Either they are wearing it because they are absolutely ignorant of the hate and racism it was associated with, or these individual straight up could care less about exercising empathy. Also what I mentioned about lack of diversity in publications, and photographers who choose to not photograph Black women is also insulting. 

Daffny: I don't think the vintage community is unfriendly to anyone who is different. We have black women, gay women, disabled women like me and everyone is quite friendly and sweet. Its one of the reasons I love this community so much.

Daffny & her lovely kids - source
How would you encourage other people of color in embracing their own personal style?

Daffny: I would encourage someone from my culture to embrace the beauty and the history of the past and to have fun with it. I would tell them to add their own dash of salsa to the mix and make it dazzle!

Nora: I would encourage them to do some research on their own history, on other people's history, and just generally on fashion history to find what they like and what they don't. I don't identify myself with just one racial/cultural group so I don't feel like I need to limit myself on wearing only one type of clothing. I would encourage people to find their own style whether or not that is vintage.

Candace: One of my favorite lines from a song from my favorite bands, Halestorm has a song “Sick Individual” the chorus says, “I’m doing thing called whatever the f**k I want…” I love that attitude… [but] It is hard to do because growing up we’re told what to say and do and not do certain things because we’ll appear as something to others and so on. But it gets tiring, and you get fed up with so you have to have that attitude...I’ve been adapting that attitude because I’m tired with trying to please everyone, it’s exhausting. I think everyone should live by that. If wearing seam stocking and cat eyeliner makes you feel better, happier, prettier go ahead and do it. Why should you sacrifice your happiness for someone else? I will not sacrifice my polka dots and pearls for anyone!

What practical things can members of the white majority do to support other races in the vintage community? 

Nora: I don't think there is any discrimination to be honest. I always feel like people appreciate my style and myself and don't think I'm wearing vintage to imitate white people or I'm simply costuming. I think the most important thing is to treat everyone the same way. Give compliments and be genuine - when someone looks lovely, then tell them but don't be patronising or don't sound surprised.

Daffny: I think those who aren't from other cultures just make sure that they are welcoming and friendly to anyone who comes into the community irregardless of their culture. You cannot go wrong by being nice!

Candace: Just keep supporting. I have such wonderful supporters who aren’t black quite a few of them are white believe it or not and I’m very happy. I was a little worried I felt like I would be alienating them with the name Black Pinups, but I think most of them are like me, they like it because it’s pinup, it’s a great product/photo and they want to see me and others do well.

Carla: Feature more PoC of the eras in beauty posts and the like. (I'm working on this during the summer) Talk to PoC who dress vintage, and compliment their style.

Angelique Noire - source
What other things do you feel need to be said pertaining to this issue? Is there anything else that could help readers better grasp your experience?

Daffny: I think it is important to know that not all Latinos in America are Mexican. The Mexican culture is a beautiful one but we also come from Europe, South and Central America, and the Caribbean. We come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. We have blonde hair and red hair, we come tall/slender and round/curvy, with freckles, with dark skin and pale skin. Don't judge a book by its cover. You never know who may be and so therefore I encourage you to just ask.
  Candace: I hope that people will be more open if they’re not towards black history especially in the entertainment industry. I had a post of black history female pioneers and I was happy to see how many of my white followers were interested in learning, it was awesome. I’m glad more people are wanting to learn more. I love to learn about any history not just mine but everyone’s so I’m hoping it continues.

For more information on Asian culture & vintage, check out Nora's more in-depth post, "Why Don't Asians Wear Vintage?" 


  1. Such a lovely post. I really enjoy reading things like this. I think it's so import to be as inclusive as possible and we must always listen to others experiences and work to be better. Diversity is such a beautiful thing and we must all celebrate it and endeavour to be a considerate and thoughtful community.

  2. I've long agreed with Candace that part of the reason why we don't see more racial diversity in the vintage world (though, thankfully, that is changing more and more for the positive with each passing year) is because of the social pressure some people feel from their communities, families, peers, (and perhaps, if applicable) religious/spiritual tenets to not veer from the current day norm and/or to risk looking uncool/unfashionable. Of course some caucasians experience this, too, but because we have a larger pool of peers who are doing the same thing (wearing vintage/rockabilly/pinup/etc styles) already, it may be easier for us to break away from the mainstream, so to speak, and march to the beat of our own fashion drum. It's a shame that anyone is the 21st century doesn't feel free to dress however they please, regardless of if others are doing the same or not, and I truly hope that this awesome pair of posts will help encourage others out there, no matter their race, who may have been on the fence about wearing vintage to give it a spin at long last.

    Again, amazing interviews, everyone!

    ♥ Jessica

  3. Amazing piece as always. I highly recommend contacting Racialicious and The Root so these two great posts can be cross promoted and reach a wide audience. I think very few in the vintage world are brave enough to want to look at this. I think feedback from vintage "likers" are going to give our community the best feedback. A few things I think need to be looked at:

    1. I do not agree that is the individual racial communities that are "holding back" their respective members from embracing vintage. Bernie and Levi Dexter and other proud Confederate flag wavers of Rockabilly ( which has roots in extreme anti Black and anti immigrant violence) seem much more a deterrent and a turn off to Black people interested in vintage. A hateful symbol displayed and posed with labelled with the bogus disclaimer that "it's about music, heritage (insert white privilege excuse) etc" shows low class values. When Bernie Dexter was called out for her embrace of the Confederate flag a few months back her response was to post a vintage video from the 70s of Neo Rockabilly artist Crazy Cavin who is never without the Confederate flag onstage at an all white Rockabilly weekender. Onstage was the sole Black person at the event dancing to "Old Black Joe" which shows either denial or ignorance. The post was later removed. A month or so later Bernie and Levi started magically promoting Jenny Rieu who was the first Black model they have ever worked with or who had ever modeled Bernie's dresses on her website since she started her clothing line over half a decade ago. Bernie Dexter : Rebel Girl was the original name of the line so more nods to the Confederacy.

    2. True, Hispanics come in all shades and colors however if you present as white in a mostly white sub culture you are not going to face the same inequities someone who is Black or who identifies as Black. I do not see nearly the amount of unwelcome "vibes" and lack of representation coming from the Vintage world towards Hispanic people as I have seen towards Black. This I believe is due to the fact that from the 30s to 50s popular rarely portrayed Black people as human or non exotic. Now in a movement based on extreme nostalgia for this era, whites want to pretend it simply wasn't like that or they want to ignore it.

    3. The Native American fetish names and terms like Squaw dress and Squaw shopper bag are horrendous. It is bizarre to read a few of the very white looking Pinups who claim it is ok simply because an unenrolled and uncertified Native American ancestor may be in their background. This leads to the bigger issue of vintage using the excuse of association to get a free pass for using racial imagery. According to some of her fans, Masumi Max, being half Asian should be given carte blanche to pose with the Confederate Flag. Really? Because she isn't "all white" then somehow the KKK and the racists who embrace the flag are "being mocked? " Perhaps that is her intention but it seems more like attention getting than anti racism.

    1. As a "white/light" Hispanic myself, I have not faced harsh discrimination, but my personal lack of melanin doesn't mean that there aren't still hurdles. Hispanics maintain a very strong family-based culture that reflects highly on older values, so in my area, the vintage look was still very present in some families. I have many friends who were born and raised with the vintage aesthetic purely because their mothers and grandmothers still dressed that way, especially for church and formal events. Men also dressed in vintage styles, especially the 1960s and 1980s, as it is seen as a display of respect and machismo. So in my area, dressing slightly vintage wasn't very strange because it fit the ideals encouraged by the local culture. However, by the early 2000s, it had become less fashionable to be old fashioned, though some of the look lived on in the chola lifestyle like red lipstick, head wraps, fancy bangs, and a sort of rockabilly look. The modern vintage style showcases the body more, though, and many non-vintage wearers seem to sexualize it, not unlike the Spanish and Mexican pin-ups from yesteryear. I love pinups, but they do present problems if that's all anyone knows about history and how it relates to fashion. Like so many other cultures in the 40s and 50s, pinups portrayed Hispanic women as exotic accessories/trophies. The Hispanic culture has become highly objectified and sexualized overall as of late as well. We are not all Brazilian models or Mexican cantina waitresses! My golden-skinned friends that wear vintage often get "Hey, Carmen Miranda!" comments, and not just from "white" observers. There is also some pushback from within the Hispanic culture itself. The same vintage values that encourage vintage-style modesty and femininity also encourage male-domination, strong religious rule, and traditional family expectations. These factors judge women harshly for how they dress. Combined with the sexualized view of our place in society means that vintage make us paradoxes under the thumb of past injustices. Are we prudish or sexualized? Unfashionably old fashioned or stylish? Anti-feminist or feminist?

      Don't even get me started on the marginalization and commercialization of Native American cultures, either. That's a road no one should have ever traveled down, no matter how fashionable cowboys and "indians" were during the mid 20th century. I grew up in an area where tribal religions and affiliations are still very much alive, strong, and sacred. They are, however, starting to die out because the youth often no longer see the value of it. I think the overt, blatant disrespectful use of native culture as fashion accessories plays a huge role in that schism. It turns your heritage into a caricature--a joke. That seems to be the root of most problems with non-white vintage: so many cultures became jokes in the 40s and 50s and, unfortunately, the punchlines are all people remember.

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    3. Well said. I did not mean to down play sexual fetish aspect that Hispanics have faced and I agree it has been horrendous but my point was to remind people that Black people were dehumanized even by darker Hispanic and middle eastern immigrants not to mention European immigrants. The race to cross the color line by the new comer in America post Plessy vs Ferguson (which created apartheid, rolled back huge post civil war gains in racial tolerance and opened the door for "one drop" laws) was not optional. Johnny Otis, the King of early Rock n Roll was Greek but in order to be who he wanted to be within Rock n Roll he lived in the Black community and refused to buy into racism. That meant leaving being White behind (his own words). Hispanics just did not face that kind of racism in the US. Again not to down play just looking at who has had to fight the hardest and how are little sub culture can make things positive. This is not easy work.

  4. (Continued)

    4. I think a great way to build more inclusion into Pinup is to actively share and celebrate the positive nostalgia that Black, Hispanics etc are part of. Simply because white supremacy marginalized people of color does not mean that those cultures bought into white hatred. Some of the most important and beautiful imagery from vintage times is from the US Black Community via the performers, the fashions such the African American millinery artists, the Harlem Renaissance etc. In the Hispanic community there are countless Vintage aspects from the Zoot Suits to Day of the Dead imagery etc. These positive contributions go beyond vintage to actually having shaped America! I know all of US know this but the world beyond Bettie Page bangs and Bakelite is mostly unknown (or ignored) by vintage culture.

    5. There needs to be zero tolerance for Golliwog and Sambo imagery. I am always surprised at events and even on Instagram how many white vintage people think racist Black caricature art " is simply nostalgia" or "not PC I know..." and (the worst) "why should we be afraid of history?"

    1. (Response to #5:) I used to live in East Africa, so I love to combine my love of vintage with my love of Middle Eastern and African cultures. There are ways to do this with vintage clothing, such as with novelty prints or pieces that are clearly inspired by the styles of those cultures. However, it can be a really hard line to draw, especially with novelty prints. Some are very clearly inappropriate to me, but other prints that aren't universally, obviously insulting are more "gray," and it's hard to determine what is offensive.

      I also try to remember that, especially when it comes to non-white-American cultures, that people in the 20s-50s were essentially just "discovering" them. For the normal American (of any color), most didn't travel much, and certainly not outside the country. I don't know if you know people that haven't been many places, but they don't usually accurately portray other cultures simply because they haven't interacted with them much. They just don't know. So while some things were clearly rooted in racism, other things can be attributed to ignorance, and that's not just a "white culture" trait! For example, anything Middle Eastern and Indian is pretty interchangeable when it comes to most vintage prints and motifs. Cuz, you know… they all wear turbans… and are tan… and far away… People just didn't know the difference, so the prints aren't always accurate. Unless it's blatantly racist, I'll consider the inaccuracy at the least, a mark of ignorance. At the most, it can almost be a compliment to another culture. 1950s America was intrigued by some aspect of this culture, and while they didn't portray it accurately, they found something about it beautiful for the first time. That doesn't mean they did everything right, but it means they could look outside their own cultural lens enough to appreciate something different from them in fashion.

      Like I said, it isn't all done well, and it all wasn't as optimistic as my last statement. However, I've found that inaccuracy and even things that can come off as racist (in the case of someone wearing something offensive today) are often due to ignorance rather than a direct animosity toward a group of people. Maybe I'm just optimistic about people, but I'd wager that most ladies wearing sambo print novelty skirts aren't thinking, "I will celebrate and perpetuate discrimination and racism by wearing this skirt covered in caricatures of black people. All black people are inferior to me, and I must do my part to show that."

      Again, maybe I'm just optimistic, but many people probably just don't realize the baggage associated with the imagery. That's what honest and open dialogue is about, not jumping to conclusions about anyone, not even a lady wearing an offensive skirt. When we hear other's views and are open to them, our own opinions are oftentimes changed. I know the things I consider offensive now wouldn't have been offensive to me five years ago because I didn't know then what I know now. However, if someone had yelled at me and called me out for being a horrible dirty racist for something then… I probably wouldn't have responded with a desire to learn more. But because I had trusted friends that I could talk to, that gave me the benefit of the doubt when I asked stupid questions, I've learned so much and my views have changed! Barring the most obstinate of people, it seems that genuine conversations seem to go further than accusation.

    2. And that was WAAAAY longer than I thought it was, DANG. Sorry about that!

    3. Rockabilly started by white people appropriating black american culture.

    4. That might be so (I'm not familiar with rockabilly anything, so I wouldn't know), but how can we move on and progress in the future? Since we can't change the past, how can we work together now to make things better moving forward?

    5. I remember reading an article that was written by a College Professor teaching either African-American history or Social Politics. Point is he was black, and well learned about the modern and historical social injustices African Americans have faced. But apparently he collected vintage Golliwog pieces. It was an odd piece, and I can't find it anymore. I can't fully remember his justification of his collection, but I think it was either about "never forgetting" about the prejudice, or a reminder of how far we have come? I always thought Golliwog images were so alien looking, and I have a hard time justifying/understanding why people collect them.

      I also have some beef with the confederate flag, I get people like celebrating their history, but it is a sign specifically of a time when the South was trying to get independence from the North. To me it says that as a Southerner you are 1) you don't associate yourself with the northern part of the us, or any other part, and feel that you are separate from it. and 2) you have pride for the reasons why the South left the US, which sorry guys was about slavery. (you can argue it was about freedom, but at the time they wanted freedom to have slaves) Racial politics aside it is still different from Texans taking pride they were their own country. Texas gained independence from Mexico, then joined the United States. So if I raised the original texan flag I would be celebrating our brief moment of freedom. But the moment of freedom of the South would represent slavery and leaving the country it is part of.

    6. Oh and Emileigh yes, Rockabilly is pretty much a white version of rock and roll... simply put the style is a mix of "Western" music and Rock and Roll. The word came about by mixing Rock with Hillbilly. It is a little safe to say that "rockabilly" sometimes just get morphed into rock music when writing about modern music. You can check out the wikipedia page.

    7. @Emileigh Not long at all. You make great points. This is the only thread like in on the interwebs so I think the more input the better.

      As far as accusation goes, any constructive critique is not be confused with calling anyone "racist". While I am sure that outright racists are around vintage they do not seem to be the issue. As all of us carry at least some racial bias and cultural ignorance my point is that we can all help each other evolve past it. Many well intentioned, kind and decent people think that Sambo art and the Confederate Flag is not hateful. Even the sweetest gal in the world who helms Butch wax vintage had been hash tagging Squaw. But while we both agree there is a lack of awareness there is also clear white privilege at play too. I think the BEST way to start things in the right direction is to ask that the major festivals and conventions ban the display of The Confederate Flag, black caricature imagery and Nazi imagery. No excuses. No "but why can they have Africa flag colors and Mexican art?" whining. A full on ban would be the best way to go. It would also be met with relatively big protest within Kustom and Vintage. Too bad. That is how you make a sub culture inclusive. You remove signs of hatred to those who are interested in joining you. You ignore or engage those who have the freedom to toy with these symbols when they doth protest too much.

    8. @Jennifer Rockabilly is not as white as you may think it is. It may be mixed with country but it is still heavily influenced and originating in Black culture. White musicians of that first wave genre stole, copied, ripped off and cheated much of that music away from Black artists in the US. In the UK the scene was originally full on racist and even deadly. The entire Notting Hill Carnival which was founded by Claudia Jones a Black American Communist was a direct response to the violent race riots in the areas FULLY INSTIGATED by Teddy Boy rockabilly fans. Neo Rockabilly performers like Levi Dexter refuse to acknowledge this awful aspect of the past even if as I said above they are not racist they are not willing to look at how flaunting a symbol-dear lord, REVIVING it as a piece of pop art culture- effects others! I think he mentioned somewhere that he's half Venezuelan so that makes him immune to any affiliation with white supremacy...His ethnicity does not change the fact that his work with The Confederate flag is overwhelmingly embraced by a white audience who see him as a white artist not a mixed or Hispanic artist. Give credit to some of the first wave punks on Kings Road London back in the day. They found Levi and friends Rebel flag hanging in some hang out and ripped and burned it.

    9. @Customer Service you make some very valid points. The only way we can move on and make a change is buy banning the use of confederate flags. A lot of people in the vintage community see it as something that represents rockabilly fashion and the revival of old roots rock from the Southern USA. That it does. But there’s a lot more to that big blue X and those thirteen white stars than these people know or would like to admit. It represents the thirteen original united colonies from which the United States began that REFUSED to join the Union (North). Each one of these colonies had its own system of self-government which included the ownership of slaves. Long story short, these colonies dissociated themselves from the rest of the country because they refused to give up their slaves and so the Civil War a.k.a. The War of the Northern Aggression began with South Carolina attacking Union held Fort Sumter. This fact alone makes it wrong for anyone to wave/wear that flag unless of course you support the beliefs of the people from the South during that time. Sorry for the history lesson but it’s necessary when addressing this topic. I’ve had so many people from the rockabilly & pinup community say that I’m wrong and that the flag doesn’t represent slavery or oppression. They tell me it represents old rock n roll from the south. I just can’t get over how ignorant people are about this. Here’s a link to an interview from rockabilly singer Levi Dexter, husband of pinup model Bernie Dexter, where he says the flag represents “rebel rockabilly...rock n roll from the South”. Not sure if Levi realizes this but The Rebellion was another name for the thirteen southern states that refused to abolish slavery. Levi Dexter is a prominent musician in the rockabilly culture who hangs the confederate flag on stage at his shows all over the world. He also wears t-shirts emblazoned with it. Him and his wife Bernie Dexter, have both said on many occasions the confederate flag is not a symbol of hatred or racism and that it represents southern US roots music. This to me is very destructive because both Bernie and Levi Dexter have a huge following in the vintage community who'll most likely believe what they're saying about the flag. This was brought up on Bernie Dexter’s Facebook page a little while ago where she defended the use of the confederate flag by the rockabilly community. There was quite the backlash and the post was immediately removed. Within a week Bernie was posting photos of a gorgeous black pinup model on her FB page. I assume she was doing damage control to protect her company image but I think she missed the point. I don’t believe Bernie Dexter and her husband Levi Dexter are racists. After all, Bernie Dexter is ½ Filipino and Levi Dexter is ½ Venezuelan however they are ignorant in not knowing the truth behind the flag they proudly wear and the danger of condoning a symbol of hate. They should know better and when someone politely educates them about it they shouldn’t get ugly. I hope I haven’t gone too far off topic but I feel the flagrant wearing, hanging, supporting, defending of the confederate flag in the name of rockabilly/pinup fashion is beyond insensitive to all black Americans and immigrants. As Customer Service said it best..."That is how you make a sub culture inclusive. You remove signs of hatred to those who are interested in joining you." Peace.

    10. Levi Dexter interview from 2013 where he explains that the punks in England used to burn their confederate flags believing it stood for slavery...they couldn't have been more wrong"...

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  6. Wonderful posts. I really appreciated reading the range of opinions and experiences from your interviewees. It has given me a lot to think about. Thanks everyone!

    1. Thank YOU, Tanith! I always appreciate your involvement! :)

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