Claressa Shields, the young boxer who won a gold metal in the first-ever women’s boxing event at the Olympics, challenged some deep-seated stereotypes when she was interviewed last week by Stephen Colbert. It seemed to me that this young black woman (she’s 17) bravely confronted these notions about women in general and black women in particular: She’s a boxer, and women aren’t supposed to be aggressive, especially if they are black. If they are black and aggressive, they are labeled “angry black women” and scare people. I thought Claressa Shields a) probably was very tired of being asked why she became a boxer and b) thought the Colbert show would be an OK place to play with the stereotypes.
I was so impressed by Claressa that I wrote a poem in which I tried to capture the interview moment.
A Young Black Woman Goes Too Far
Back home in Flint, coming out of the boxing ring
Claressa Shields is sweating.
Her straightened hair is pasted to her face
or sticks out in tufts.
Her strong muscles shine, and
she tells an interviewer she wins because
she is aggressive and never gives up.
Now, an Olympic gold medal around her neck,
she’s relaxed and dressed up for TV.
Long strands of unbraided hair
flow around her head.
She wears her best jeans with a jacket that
artfully covers her bulging biceps.
Wide smiles gleam in her brown face.
Colbert asks the inevitable question:
“Why did you pick boxing as a sport?”
She does not say, “The boys would not let me
play basketball,” or
“There was no Little League in my neighborhood.”
Instead with perfect deadpan delivery
“Because I love hittin’ people”
“I make ‘um cry and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Colbert cracks up.