Author Archives: josafir

The Intersection of Athletics and Vassar

Today’s class discussion was fascinating to me on many levels.  But, perhaps most surprising and pertinent to me was the issue Maya brought up surrounding athletes and diversity and inclusion.

I am a member of the Vassar College Men’s Basketball team.  We have a 13 man roster, 11 of which are white.  Does that mean we are not diversified?  What about the fact that only 3 are from New York?  Sitting in a locker room with teammates from Vermont, Boston, Virginia, Arizona and California has opened up my eyes in many ways.

Basketball, and sports in general, create a certain culture, atmosphere, and camaraderie amongst each other that is extremely difficult to replicate elsewhere.  When Maya brought up the point of the Lax team being all white New Englanders, what I would have liked to discusses and pushed back against was the fact that the coach has to recruit players to be on the team.  Coaches like to find and create recruiting hotbeds where they get a stream of players.  I think sports teams, at least on this campus, at the Division Three level, are incredibly hard to diversify in ways that would imitate a classroom setting.

It is my belief (and just that, an opinion and not a fact), that a portion of each sports team that actively recruits (basketball, baseball, lacrosse) has players on the roster that otherwise could not get in to a school like Vassar without the slight help that playing a sport and being recruited by a coach provides.  One way to look at athletics at the Division Three level is that we are trying to accomplish the same goals as other students, just with 4 less hours of our day, every single day.

Interestingly enough, I believe the most diverse or “Vassar” team on campus would be Rugby.  As an innocent freshman fresh out of high school and coming from standing-room only for all of my basketball games, I asked how come no one goes to our basketball games and the Rugby games have people and are sometimes packed?  Knowing full well that basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world, a senior gave me a very poignant response that I believe is true and definitely holds value when he explained that Rugby players do not necessarily come to Vassar knowing that they are going to play Rugby.  They choose the school, then decide to play Rugby.  A by product of this is that they become the most diverse team on campus who are inherently the most willing of all other athletes to meet new people besides their team and other athletes.  (Not saying other teams or athletes aren’t willing, but the Rugby team literally comes to school not expecting to play a sport).

Democracy and Religion

In my “Unsettling America” class we recently discussed Democracy and Religion, and I think it is pertinent here after the “Democracy” section by Fred Moten in Keywords.  While Moten touches more on what constitutes a democracy, and the Democrats from a political party aspect, religion is still relevant to democracy.

Religion and democracy relate as religion facilitates the cultivation of liberty and democracy in America.  In a democracy, to an extent courtesy of religion, all are considered equal. Religions effect everyone being equal, as all should be deemed equal, especially according to Alexis de Tocqueville.

Without religion, people may be immoral and have minimal incentive to adhere to laws.  People follow rules through the guidance of religion.  Without this religion, people essentially could “run wild,” without regards to anyone or anything.  Religion had an effect on laws, especially regarding civil rights and religion.  To call the Civil Rights Movement a religious revival would be an injustice, as the movement was too big to have any one label on it.  But, to say it had nothing to do with religion, would be naive.  All people, no matter there race, ethnicity, or creed are created equally, and the Civil Rights Movement tried to establish just that.

Liberty and democracy are about freedom and free-thought.  Religion promotes both of these, even if, for the free-thought, that it was likely first conceived through notions and concepts of religion.  One would be remiss to not mention just how intertwined Religion and democracy truly are.


Exceptionalism in Everything?

One of the Keywords, Exceptionalism, allows me to touch on the topic I wrote about for my midterm assignment and will also be working with for my final project.

When I think of Exceptionalism, specifically, American Exceptionalism, I think of something that makes America uniquely better than other countries or empires.  Something that presents a future liberated from the thoughts of Marxism and socialism.

In the instance of basketball, the United States of America are the clear dominant power.  The concept of exceptionalism certainly extends onto the hardwood.  As China, a current world power and empire, progresses on the basketball front, will tensions between the two prevent them from working together to build and grow the game of basketball?  From the American Exceptionalist point of view, you basically have China do whatever they want because in the minds of people who take on this view point with everything, there is no way China can catch up to the United States.

Currently, Asian-American athletes have a negative connotation surrounded by their name.  Analysts, experts, and pundits believe many negative stereotypes.  Guys like Jeremy Lin are literally changing the way Americans view Asian-American athletes.  Tensions that arise from competing empires may also lead to passive-aggressive monikers and stereotypes in other fields or sports.

Jeremy Lin

Wilder and Corporations

While watching Wilder’s One, Two, Three movie, the concept of corporations and their true value, meaning, and reason for existence stuck out to me.  In the movie, Mac wants to bring Coke to the Soviet Union.  How easy it is to back-stab is an underlying theme throughout the movie.

This same theme was present throughout a recent article I read from Sports On Earth ( about concussions and the NFL.  The NFL is certainly a corporation, a multi-billion dollar one at that, and they will seemingly do anything, or tried to do anything, to hide the true effects of concussions.  Whether it was ex-players who were hurt from concussions becoming intimately involved from the NFL’s side, covering up facts and hiding in denial, or saying one thing in public and doing another in private, the NFL was willing to go to any and all measures to cover up concussions and their effects.

This is similar and relates to our class discussion from this morning, about the allusion of choice that exists in a free market economy.  Here, the NFL players thought they had or were able to make choices on the doctors they went to, but in realty, the NFL controlled those decisions.  And the doctors they saw may not have always had their best interests in mind.  The NFL used their influences and resources – mainly media and money, to dominate the market and public opinion.

Dallas Clark getting hit hard enough to cause a concussion - and likely long-term effects on his health.

Dallas Clark getting hit hard enough to cause a concussion – and likely long-term effects on his health.

The American Empire

Amazingly, prior to the 9/11 events and 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the word “empire” usually had a negative connotation. It is my belief (with the help of Keywords) that America was essentially an “empire in denial” prior to that. As Amy Kaplan says, “I have argued that the denial and disavowal of empire has long served as the idealogical cornerstone of U.S. imperialism and a key component of American exceptionalism.” America may not be an empire in the traditional sense, like those that came before them and had colonies, but certainly are in terms of how they advance their ideas and concepts throughout the world.  From consumer culture, to intervention in foreign conflict, and the entire Middle East saga, these are just a few examples.

America has always acted imperialistic, but rather than call themselves an empire from the start, it was referred to as “Manifest Destiny.”  Manifest Destiny gave divine sanction to U.S. expansion and implied that it was a natural and nonviolent process (Keywords, 97).  Noted conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, “The fact is no country has been as dominant culturally, economically, technologically and militarily in the history of the world since the Roman Empire.”

America, The Empire, has a nice ring to it.  Being an empire means the nation can continue to do these actions which they seemingly enjoy and have an interest in.  I believe with their imperialistic practices that the hegemonic power that likes to play “World Cop” is absolutely an empire.  Concluding these readings, two questions I had: Why was there so much fear and stigma attached with being referred to as an empire, and what can America do next to further themselves as a global superpower?

What is a Border?

For as long as I can remember, I have always had some sort of weird fascination with borders.  Partially because I have always been amazed that you can literally be laying down in 4 states at once.  I suppose this fascination stems from the reality that I, or anyone for that matter, do not really have a clear and concise understanding and definition of what a border really is and means.  Is it a wall, a line, a natural boundary, a sign? All of the above?

Obviously, the Gloria Anzaldúa piece, “Borderlands: La Frontera” discusses borders and issues with the Texas-Mexico border.  However, I first want to relate two individual lines from the “Our America” and bring them into the border discussion.  “Governor, in a new country, means creator.” And then, “Create is this generation’s password.”  Both of these caught my attention because when relating this to current times, you need a password for everything. A password is like a border, something that is supposed to impede your entrance.  When discussing what a border is supposed to be, is it a “New York State Welcomes You” sign that you see upon entering the state, or the wall that surrounds parts of the beautiful Vassar College campus, or is having military right at a certain “divider” point in which other people are not allowed to cross into?  In modern times, borders are quite literally lines, signs or dividers.  In previous times, before technology (password) was around in the fashion that it is, borders were likely natural landmarks.

What happens when someone crosses over a line they are not supposed to be in or not allowed to enter? Who determines this line and who is allowed to enter?  In Anzaldúa’s, “The Homeland, Aztlán,” she argues that race is a central issue regarding boundaries.  I think boundaries do perpetuate racism.  The idea that someone is better than another person or race because of rules and regulations that are in one side of the boundary and not the other are very true and real.  However, any notion of racism not existing if boundaries did not exist is ludicrous! As long as there are differences in humans, racism will exist to an extent.  It pains me to say it, but a different type of person will always believe the absurd concept that they are superior to others or feel the need to belittle or degrade others in order to benefit themselves.

A border is a fascinating concept.  And that notion to me became even more fascinating after these readings.  Borders are dividers.  Borders come in many different shapes and sizes.  Borders are different.  People are different.


Apparently I was already beaten to this fascinating picture that I recently saw, but couldn’t help but post it anyways.


A Gruesome Look on Slavery

To me, when I think of slavery, I openly shudder and get extremely tense. It’s really disturbing. The concept of slavery is unthinkable, and one of the most despicable in the history of mankind. However, I always just shut down whenever slavery is discussed, almost like it’s some sort of self-control mechanism. Soul by SoulLife Inside the Antebellum Slave Market by Walter Johnson, and the slavery chapter in Keywords for American Cultural Studies, also by Walter Johnson, opened my eyes because it’s the first time that I really read through something like this and did not just shut down, learning about the brutality of it all and how slaves were handled by their owners and other slave-owners.

The reading explores how slavery and freedom became intertwined historically, becoming synonyms with American manifestation (pg. 223 of Slavery in Keywords). This question attempts to expose America for what it is: a free market capitalist nation whose citizens have a long history of doing anything they possibly can to become successful.  Throughout history, this is looked at as a positive characteristic and part of what makes the United States of America the greatest nation in the world. However, in the case of slavery, it is putrid and inexcusable. The end – profit maximization – justified the means – exploiting free labor – and the results were morally reprehensible.

“For Karl Marx, slavery was a moment in the history of primitive accumulation – the initial process of dispossession out of which capitalist social relations were subsequently built” (Slavery, Keywords, 223). “Free” labor shares the common metanarrative surrounding the movement from slavery to capitalism. Marx believed this was the first step in leading the United States to where we currently are today, with respect to free market capitalism.

I came away with a couple of questions from what I read, as I am still baffled as to how someone could live with themselves owning slaves, let alone conducting slave trades in the manner in which they were done. If the punishment for slaves, when they did not cooperate, was to be tortured, then how does that force the slave into doing the work asked of them – since they are already being tortured anyways? There is no workable incentive. Slave trader David Wise would refer to a slave as an “it” instead of a “he” or “she,” (page 118, Soul by Soul), but if traders wanted to make the point of dehumanizing the slaves, then why did they organize them during trades into categories based upon sex? The practice makes no sense. Why enact laws like Code Noire and the Civil Code if they have no intention of ever being enforced?