If the Tea Party was black


Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.

Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.

(Thanks, Mr Jender.)

59 thoughts on “If the Tea Party was black

  1. In my view, this is one of the most profoundly effective essays at pointing how deeply race affects our/my perceptions. One of my students sent this to me over the weekend. OMG.

  2. Nice! Just as (doing a section on personal identity) I was beginning to get all cynical about thought-experiments…

    Throw them tea-baggers in front of the trolley, I sez! The whole white lot of them.

  3. Damn, I thought those fools were just mouthy anti-health care brainwashees. I didn’t know they were marching around with guns.

    Thank our founding fathers for getting one thing right in this country. For the most part, only criminals and people with nearly comatose levels of patience have guns where I am. And only the former group will use them against a human being. Avoiding them is pretty simple. Stay away from crackhouses and people wearing biker colours, and any violence you’ll see will only involve fists, blunt weapons or possibly a stun gun.

    Does Homeland Security have anything at all to say about these white terrorists? The Toronto 18 did serious time in the Don Jail for gathering in an empty field with paint ball guns because of the insinuation that all the terrorists come from Canada. Why are those white psychopaths not in Gitmo? Oh right, race riots and all that. Yeah, sounds like a runaway public transit vehicle might be the only solution.

    I’m seeing a movie starring Keanu or Matt Damon.

  4. Your title is grammatically incorrect. The ‘was’ should be ‘were’ since it should be in the subjunctive case. The title should read ‘If The Tea Party Were Black.’ Way to go!

  5. No, it shouldn’t: it was taken from the title of the post linked to. Moreover, it seems to me pretty obvious that English is currently in a state of transition with regard to this rule (descriptively, it clearly doesn’t hold; but even prescriptively there is disagreement). But even if I was a big huge fan of prescriptive grammar, and even if all the prescriptive grammarians were in agreement) I would be far more interested in the point being made than in being a pedant. I’ll stop there, as otherwise I might have to delete my own reply for violating blog rules.

  6. And just what message are your black protesrers sending?. what message are your Arab protesters sending? The tea party protesters are in protest of this ballooning government. Look at all the Violent crimes black people create Hell yes I would be terrified. If you can’t see that then I don’t know what to tell you. For you to to conjure up the idea reflects exactly how the idea is real. Profiling works. Now go ahead and critasize my spelling and punctuation or lack there of.

  7. Oh wow Charlie… I’m sorry but your comment is first misinformed, and second, racist.

    The point of the article is to point out that if it were the case that people of color were to take up *the same cause and methods* as that of the tea party, people would react completely differently, simply in virtue of their race.

    With respect to what you said about black people and Arabs- do people of color commit crime? Sure. But, do white people commit crime? Absolutely. Look at the Christian terrorist group from Michigan just recently. They were planning violent terroristic acts. The difference here, is that we don’t take them (or the Timothy McVeighs, or the Kaczynskis) as representative of all white people– so why should we when we’re talking about people of color?

    There are roughly 1.4 billion Muslims (most of which, by the way, are not Arab, and not all Arabs are Muslims) while the number of actual militants is only in the thousands– and yet we have this persisting stereotype of Arabs as Muslim terrorists which just fails to reflect reality.

  8. Kathryn, one could also add that many of the black men in prison are there because laws about crack are very different from those about cocaine, though arguably the “abuse” is completely comparable.

    I am a bit confused about this. Does the thought experiment grip us just because so many people have Charlie’s feelings, if not his beliefs? That is, we see any black men as very threatening – mind you, I see any white men as very threatening, especially when they have guns, and I am worried about violence. How far really are we away from the violent white racism so prevalent in the southern states.

  9. That was similar to my worry, jj. It seems to me that this article really only works if the reader is racist, as it’s quite likely that changing the predominant race of the group wouldn’t change their ability to act as it did. It might change the public’s perception of the act, but I suspect that idea is only revelatory to those whose perceptions would also be changed in a similar way.

    Fortunately, everyone who read the article probably is a racist, so I guess it works out pretty well.

    (As an aside, they almost certainly weren’t carrying AK-47s. Those are pretty strictly regulated, and definitely not covered by the second amendment. There are lots of AK-style rifles out there, of course.)

  10. jj- also, black men in the US serve nearly the same length of sentences for drug offenses as white men do for violent offenses.

    I think your analysis is highly plausible; but I’m sort of struck by how widely circulated this is relative pieces written by people of color about race issues and the tea party. Tim Wise has said himself that he thinks his own prominence is in some ways related to his being white. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s an amazing writer and extremely articulate. My own first real exposure to modern race issues (from an anti-racism perspective) was through his writing. Do people have an easier time believing a white person when it comes to issues of race?

  11. I think I can easily imagine the general reaction to these protest if the participants were Black. Or Gay, Or Hispanics, or any feared minority. The reaction would be great alarm, panic on Fox, Maybe National Guard troops. Possibly progroms across White Ameica against these minorities.
    This type of thing has happened in the past, here and elsewhere. Imagine Jews protesting against Nazi Rule in 1933 Germany. The result, they knew, would be unimaginable backlash.
    I’ve often said that by 2050 or so the country would be “minority” controlled. I’ve also insisted white America would not give up their privilege gracefully. The fact is, there will be a redistribution of wealth. Tax laws, govt. spending priorities, corporate welfare, ect. will no longer be sustainable. Yes, regardless of what they want, a more “socialistic” system will happen.
    The US has had one of the bloodiest civil Wars in history once. Nothing I’ve seen convinces me a repeat is out of the question.

  12. I think the thought experiment is meant to work in at least two ways. It might work by making one more aware of the racism of one’s society– that it’s not really colour-blind despite electing Obama. Or it might work by making one aware of one’s own racism. Or possibly both at once.

  13. To me, it just feels like the only ones standing up are the ones who will do it the wrong way. By the time someone is really into gun rights, it doesn’t take all that much peer pressure to get them to the capital armed and demonstrating. But a lot of this stuff is completely overblown.

    Le’ts pick a simple example: the spitting thing never happened. If you haven’t heard about the huge cash reward for the first person to come forward with an eyewitness account of such abuse (despite fairly lax rules about evidence, making fraud easy), no one has even tried. It’s probably around the 3 week mark by now that no one has come forward. The news just hates to admit it’s wrong, and I mean that completely bipartisanly. Both sides do it, but at least the guys on the other side are there to call you on your mistakes, and vice versa.

    I’m not asking anyone to abandon their networks of choice; rather, add networks you disagree with to your regimen. Otherwise, you’ll be among the last to know when the networks you like f*** up.

  14. Seriously? First, you are misrepresenting what the Tea Party rally in DC was. Go find some video of the event. It was nothing but peaceful. There weren’t any arrests, there weren’t any threats. It has been portrayed in a negative light, but not so negative as you portray it.

    Second, if it were predominately non-white, it would have been no different, except that it likely would have been portrayed more positively. Do you not remember the Million man march? It’s not like your hypothetical situation hasn’t occurred before. No national guard was called out. No one that I’ve ever heard of expressed fear at that many non-whites protesting.

    And lastly, the Tea Party isn’t exclusively white. There are a fair number of minorities involved. If you’d crawl out of your hole, and actually look, you’d know that.

  15. It is somewhat strange to bring up the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s as a counterargument to the point being made. Have you forgotten the beatings by police of protesters at those marches? If the violence against the protesters has been forgotten, perhaps Google the civil rights movement and violence, for a reminder, or look at Wikipedia.

  16. Let’s remember that we have rules here! Disagreement needs to remain respectful, not belittling.

  17. I’m going to guess that Bakka was responding to me. If so, I was referring to much more recent history. The Million Man March, occurred in 1995, and was led by Louis Farrakhan, a far from mainstream and uncontroversial figure. The situation in the 1960’s was very far removed from the current climate, and wouldn’t be a reasonable example to pull from.

    Additionally, that wasn’t my only point. There was also that the original post mischaracterized the recent Tea Party protest in DC. Also the fact that it isn’t even remotely a race related, or motivated thing, which is inclusive of anyone who thinks the government is getting too big, and too expensive.

  18. Mike- citing that there are people of color involved in the tea party movement as evidence against accusations of racism is like citing the fact that Benazir Bhutto was president of Pakistan as evidence against accusations of gender inequity in that nation.

    With respect to the DC protest: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/09/AR2010040903716.html

    And with respect to the article, aside from particular elements (e.g. racist things said about the Obama family), the point of the article is that race affects the general public’s opinion (i.e. public opinion of the tea party) which is distinct from the claim that the movement itself is motivated by racism.

  19. Oops, I am sorry, you are right. I confused the “Million Man March” with the “March on Washington.” I should have done my own googling more carefully.

    I am sorry if my comment was disrespectful.

  20. paddy, if you care to rephrase your point in respectful language, then you are welcome to comment here. We remove speech that seeks to demean others.

  21. Kathryn,

    I don’t know enough, or have enough experience to say without equivocation that there are no racists involved in the tea party. In fact I’d be surprised if there weren’t. But just as you use your example to say I can’t make my point, it works as easily the other way. As in just because there is gender inequity in Pakistan, that Bhutto therefore supported it.

    When people at tea parties have held up ignorant signs, they have been, in most situations, confronted, by other protesters. The movement as a whole, has shown itself to be without racial bias, because of a relative lack of racial comments, as well as inclusiveness of the admittedly small number of minorities. Look for videos of interviews of African American protestors. There are some out there, and when asked if they were uncomfortable amongst all the white people, they have said no. This is anecdotal of course, as is that those same people might in fact be more uncomfortable amongst those of their own race, who might consider them traitors, of uncle Tom’s. It’s a cruel world, but that cruelty is not coming in any significant amount from tea parties.

    If there is racism in the tea party, it is in individuals, and in the opinions of the opposition to the tea party. The people with the penchant to shout racist, without clear justification, seemingly solely because they don’t like tea party affiliations and opinions.

    I would challenge any here who think the tea party is a bunch of racist, ignoramuses to really look for evidence of it. Not just by a couple of individuals, but by overarching opinions and commonality within the movement. I feel that the accusations are unjust, and are simply there to guard against fairly confronting the underlying ideals, motivating regular people to spend their time out protesting.

    One last thing, Paddy, your comment is crude, confusing, out of place, if the intent is to have any rational discussion at all.

  22. Mike I still wonder about whether the “Million Man March” is a good parallel to tea party protests, however. Because as far as I can tell (and obviously could be making a mistake here), the MMM did not have protesters who were armed. Another relevant difference is that tea party protests have included calls for revolution, and spilling blood to water the tree of liberty and so forth. As far as I can tell, the MMM did not involve this kind of protest and seems to focus on black communities healing themselves, and take responsibility for ending violence in their communities rather than suggesting a revolt against the government. Again, perhaps I am wrong, but these seem like salient differences.

    Perhaps you are saying that the protesters and their signs do not represent the movement? But if that is true, then who does represent the movement? Is there some official TP doctrine/manifesto that I am not aware of? I am confused.

  23. We can all play this race “what-if” game. Our President recently called on minorities to vote from him by saying…”African-Americans, Latinos, and women who powered our victory in 2008 [to] stand together once again.”

    WHAT IF George W Bush had said…”White men stand with me and vote!”

    You hypocrites and bigots would have crucified him.

  24. Todd, I really can’t think why you think we’d crucify Bush for that. I think he made that appeal many times in more coded words. I’d be surprised he make it explicit, but it would hardly be new.

    I also think the issue is more complicated than you seem to suggest. One thing that matters would be the context of the speech in which he said this.

    A good case can be made for saying the political system is run for white men and largely by white men’s values. We have some telling examples being discussed on this blog now, among them the drug sentencing laws. So we all understand Obama to be referring to people who often feel left out and not represented. It is telling that those feeling left out and not represented are so in many cases because of their race, ethnicity and/or gender.

    Now in fact – and to his credit – Obama has recognized that a lot of white people feel left out. So it’s interesting that he made his remark by referring to race and gender, and I’d like to where it comes from.

  25. Bakka,

    I understand fully that if you aren’t familiar with our history, or aren’t sympathetic to the tea party cause, that you might feel threatened by a few signs here and there that call for revolution, or quoting Thomas Jefferson about the tree of liberty. However, those are far from the majority of signs by any stretch. Most signs say things like, “read the bill before you sign it”, and “don’t mortgage the future”, and “I’m only 7, don’t tax me to heaven”, and “repeal the pork”. Those types of much more common signs tell what the TP is about.

    Now it’s my turn to mention my confusion. There is mention here of a tea party rally rife with guns. However I’m thinking that this is confusing two completely different events. There was a gun owners rally a bit more than a week ago, but it wasn’t a tea party protest. I’d expect you’d be hard pressed to find anyone at the tea party protest in DC carrying a gun. But if you conflate the two, you have your supposed scary event.

  26. Mike- I’m not trying to say that the whole movement is racist. But in my experience with tea partiers (and I know more than a few personally, and have had conversations with others who I’m not as acquainted with) there’s been a general theme of racism (e.g. just in a conversation I had last week with someone who considers themselves a tea partier, they refered to Obama as “that monkey”).

    One of my friends attended a local tea party last year, and I don’t tend to think of this friend as particularly sensitive to racial issues, and even they said they wouldn’t go to another event because of how uncomfortable they were with it (in particular, racist remarks made against Obama, and against supporting “lazy immigrants” on welfare, etc.) despite the fact that they are in agreement with the movement with respect to a number of policy issues.

    I think you’re right that it’s individuals, and not necessarily intrinsic to supporting smaller government, etc., but (at least in my experience) it seems to be a disproportionately large number of individuals.

  27. O now I understand Todd’s quote; he left out a crucial phrase, as did indeed Fox News’ headlines. The full phrase is:

    ““young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women who powered our victory in 2008 [to] stand together once again.””

  28. Here’s a link to an actual news story about the event. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1983214,00.html

    This article sheds some light on the protest, which by the way was not part of the Tea Party movement.

    In fact it was organized by “Daniel Almond, founder of Restore the Constitution” a gun rights activist group.

    Another mistake found in “If the Tea Party Were Black” by Mr. Jender is he implies that the guns were in Washington DC, but they were across the river in Virginia, where it is legal to carry unloaded rifles.

    By the way there is no mention of AK-47s in the Time.com article

    I think Mr. Jender should check his facts before making such inflammatory implications. Sure we have a right to express our opinions, but when touting statements as fact, they should be based upon the truth.

    By the way, as just a side note, I have traveled around the world to 23 countries and coast-to-coast in the United States but I have never met anyone whom I would regard as “Black” or “White”. I’ve seen dark brown, tan, peach colored people, but never any black or white folks.

    My point is this: why do we need to use color to refer to fellow members of the Human Race? I believe it unnecessarily divides us into groups that are pitted against each other.

  29. If you want to know what happens when a black man shows up at a rally with a gun try this link:


    A black man went to a tea party protest last August with guns and MSNBC used cropped footage of the man to talk about the gun toting racists at the rally.

    YouTube this event and you’ll notice the whites at the rally didn’t treat him as “a danger to the republic”.

    The problem is you are an “ist”, you and others like you see everything through the lense of ‘ists’ instead of people.

    What was your first reaction to hearing of what this black man did? If you saw his reactions as not being the proper or normal actions of an African-American you stereotyped him based on his race.

  30. Katherine, that saddens me. I’ve been to a couple of tea party rallies, and have witnessed nothing at all that I would have been uncomfortable with had I been of darker skin tone. In fact, one of the speakers at the first I went to was Kevin Jackson, who has much darker skin than I, and my kids and I stood next to a family who were African-American. It seemed a place of camaraderie, with feelings of pride in our country, mixed with fear and anger at the direction it is going.

    Speaking for myself, I feel like I’ve been marginalized from having a role. I feel like I’ve been betrayed by what would naturally be considered my party. I feel like government isn’t listening to the people, and media isn’t being fair in its portrayal. I feel like many people in the country are putting down their opposition, not through fair debate of the issues, but by claims of racism, and radicalism. I mean why should one be fair to the ideas of a racist? If the person can be dismissed, so can their ideas, without a fair hearing. I won’t deny that there are people with racist tendencies in this country. However, it is no longer systemic. It is no longer accepted in broad daylight. It is frequently and loudly condemned on both sides of the political divide, and it’s a topic that is blocking forward progress on many other issues.

  31. I was just reading Alas, a Blog on this piece, and in the comments Elusis points out that the original of this “Imagine” piece is not the one linked above. Instead, Wise wrote it on his Facebook Notes, with a different title “Imagine: Protest, Insurgency and the Workings of White Privilege.” In the second comment, Elusis notes that the way Wise has framed it is less about how blacks would be treated and more about White Privilege. I thought this might be relevant to the discussion which has so far been more about the former than the latter.

  32. I imagine we’d probably call them the Black Panthers.

    “Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition.”

  33. @Mike #24 I suspect you don’t know much about the PPP or PM Bhutto. Do you know about the slaughter that came as a result of the failed suicide bomber attack on her? Or that she was assassinated not long after? She was a brave woman to try to change anything in that bloodbath. And she got ripped in half for her efforts.

    You should be a little more careful when you’re debating logic chopping technique–structure and form and semantics. Words refer to real events with real consequences. I don’t think PM Bhutto supported getting her head blown off.

  34. What is the racial profile of the Tea Party Movement?
    According to a NYTimes/CBS poll, 3% of those asked refused to identify their race, 6% identified it as “other,” 1% identify as black and 1% as Asian. I think “Hispanic” was an option, and it may be that a good portion of the “other” would have preferred “latino/a”.

    Steven Brown, do see the link; the thought experiment was not devised by Mr. Jender.

  35. Jender or jj, please see my comment at #38, it might be better to link to the actual author, rather than to someone who copied and pasted his work to their own blog (in the comments lots of people are giving the linked blog credit for the piece, for example, and they have not, as far as I read, set the record straight about the fact that they are not the authors). Also, Tim Wise used a different title than the one at the link, which might make a significant difference to the way this issue is framed. Wise also has the piece up at his blog under the title “Imagine: Protest, Insurgency and the Workings of White Privilege” if you prefer linking there rather than to Facebook.

  36. Bakka, Whew! Thanks so much for the link to this powerful piece. I strongly recommend that anyone following this go to that piece.
    In any case, here’s the ending:

    To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week,that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.

    And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.

  37. I firmly believe that Fox News and their commentators as well as The Republican Party are guilty of inciting violence, hatred of minorities: Racism; violence against minorities; and I do believe that the teabaggers are a terrorist organization that is behaving treasonously and should be charged as such. Anyone who would believe a syllable from anyone at Fox, must either be incredibly naive and poorly educated in order to not be able to recognize the lies and manipulation of the public’s fears and anxieties.

  38. The only difference would be that the media would be sympathetic and supportive to an all black group of protesters, and not portray them as a bunch of some radical nut jobs. Assuming they were protesting the same issues, intelligent people would have no problem with the group.

  39. MD, I think when people happily look into a camera and say that Obama is like Hitler, they’re going to be called nut jobs.

  40. We do not need to imagine that. It did happened and was called civil rights movement. And I think results were pretty impressive.

  41. Xena, #40

    I had no intention of implying the PM Bhutto actually supported gender inequality. I’m certain I don’t know as much about her situation as some here, but I know plenty enough to have a ton of respect for her.

    I was simply trying to make the point that you could as easily turn the point around. That more literally, showing how there are racists among the tea partiers, does not equate to the tea party being racist. Just as saying that there is gender inequity in Pakistan, doesn’t mean that the leadership of the country supports it. Although those examples are fairly far apart, considering gender issues are rampant and in your face, where tea party racism is mostly in the minds of the accusers on TV.

    Maybe I’ve just missed it, but I haven’t seen racism in the tea party. I am fairly certain that there are racists there, but I expect that the atmosphere at nearly all rally’s is such that racists are suppressed both passively and actively.

  42. I’m not knocking you for politely expressing an opinion, Mike. I’m just saying that too much playing with rhetorical devices can lead to statements that are untrue and offensive. For a better explanation type openly gay dutch troops into the site’s search engine in the green menu on the right and pay attention to Monkey’s comments.

    The way you stated your point in the last 3 lines of # 50 works for me.

    Btw, I’ve been told off for trollbashing on numerous occasions. Feel free to play manners police with me if I ever start to sound like a harpy.

  43. I understand your point. It was clumsy of me.

    I won’t knock you for your manners. I’ve seen nothing yet that I’d expect to bother rational people. I wouldn’t claim to be rational in what it takes to bother or offend me. I simply prefer to leave being offended to others. I find it rarely produces a positive result.

  44. Fair enough, Mike. I’ll leave the debates on American issues to the Americans for now. Tim Horton’s coffee is calling. ttfn.

  45. Watch & listen to Candy Crowley; State of the Union (CNN); Bill Maher or Jon Stewart on The Daily Show and you will see and hear the true ugliness of the teabaggers, what I saw and heard reported was absolutely horrible. If Bush was still President he & Cheney would have labelled all of them as treasonous, unpatriotic terrorist sympathisers. Let’s face it racism sadly is still a problem all over the world, but what is so sad is that we are supposedly a first world nation, but the teabaggers are acting like some kind of fascist guerrillas from The Congo or Darfur or any other place where a violent and aggressive part of society tries to force their selfish, greedy and self serving beliefs on the rest of us. When will they get the message we are all created equal and Health Care and Education is a fundamental right not a privilege to be bestowed by some arrogant blagard who wants the world to see his charity.

  46. Good point. Forty years ago when the Black Panthers began carrying arms in self-defense to protect the black community from acts of official and unofficial white terrorism, the FBI began a systematic campaign to destroy them. You think Sarah Palin is on an FBI watch list?

  47. Sorry, Bob, but I was there. The Black Panthers were a criminal street gang that was savvy enough to pick up on the political rhetoric of the times to impress romantic trendy lefties–like me. Throw them under the trolley with the tea-baggers: now that I’m older and wiser I don’t like to see anyone packing heat ranting anti-government and racially bigoted sentiments.

  48. I question the essays factual basis. But I see its point. If the tea party was black, they would be called traitors. If they are white, its ok to slur them. If they are immigrants from south of the border, its ok to throw bricks through windows. If they are Arab, we would be worried they would be ready to attack us while paying lip service to “open mindedness” and “political correctness”. This was refreshing to see someone pointing this out. Or am I missing the point? Was this meant to be ironic?

  49. Perhaps Mike would like to update his remarks, in light of Rand Paul’s political views about the Civil Rights Act. So much for those sadly delusional or unfair Tea Party skeptics.

    But I will have to revisit my opinion about the Black Panthers. I thought that, among other things, they provided some important social services around Oakland, CA and articulated resistance to anti-black racism. But H.E. Baber says they were only an opportunistic “criminal street gang”–and she knows because she was there, unlike others who were also there or have studied the group yet have a less uncharitable view.

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