Claressa Explains It All

24 Aug

Claressa Shields wins Gold as the ref holds up her hand in victory!

I’ve always been ambivalent and maybe even a little skittish about sports. They seem violent and remind me of The Hunger Games, particularly with the amount of POC presence and the injuries athletes incur. I wasn’t invested in the Olympics until my tumblr friends started pointing out the racism, sexism and nationalism in NBC’s coverage and Cruntastic’s two pieces about the ill treatment of Gabby Douglas.

Now the games are over and Gabby’s on a cereal box, a mural in VA beach and has appearances on fancy shows. I’m super excited for her but as I got caught up in the Olympic fever, there were other athletes who I want to see on TV. In particular, I wonder why there hasn’t been the same level of love and adoration for Claressa Shields.

Her story is ultra compelling, a hard knock life, a survivor, just 17 and she’d only been defeated once in her entire boxing career before the Olympics! She won gold, defeating someone much older than her! She even got in trouble for repeatedly sticking her tongue out at her opponents (na na, na na na). In her own words, “she’s bad!” But how come Claressa can’t be in the spotlight with or like Gabby?

First, Gabby and Claressa’s sports are different. Gymnastics is elite and elegant. It’s appropriately feminine too. People have a different idea about boxing, and women’s boxing at that. Claressa is already de-feminized by the sport she plays. The way that the sports are classed also maps on to the way both Gabby and Claressa speak. Claressa’s Flint inflects her every word.

For all the talk of Gabby’s hair, Claressa’s showed the wear of the work she put into getting her gold. Gabby can be a black girl hero, someone to aspire to, someone whose hair matters in sub plots of black respectability and heteronormative desirability. Claressa gets a pat on the head and a good job. She’s not a credit to the race or gender, not someone we want our daughters to look up to and emulate.

No shade to Gabby, but damn it, Claressa is my hero. She don’t take no stuff and chose boxing because she was tired of people seeing black girls as an easy target. Everyone knows a good defense starts with a good offense and she’s got a killer left-handed jab (I know, I’m mixing sports metaphors). Claressa’s prowess can not be understated. Her physical, mental and emotional commitment to her sport have inspired me and have me looking for boxing gyms in my area. Who’s with me?

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6 Responses to “Claressa Explains It All”

  1. Nell Ruby August 24, 2012 at 9:01 AM #

    OH YES! Boxing has to do with complete and utter independence. Not only is the boxer able to take care of herself, but she is able to hurt you. Could anything be more threatening in a woman? Not just no need for protection, but a CHOICE to be excellent at this–where is her weakness? To me Claressa Fields represents a wholely realized person. It will take our culture some time to get used to this, we don’t seem to be comfortable with women who have such a confident sense of themselves (in body mind and spirit!), and are so confident that they go for — and win!–the gold. Thanks for your post, I am truly inspired by her! “you think I’m a little girl and you can just hit me and i’ll just fold up, but I don’t fold”. Something about this seems to me to be the opposite of Creflo Dollar’s narrative!

  2. suneegrl August 24, 2012 at 6:08 PM #

    I wondered about Claressa’s Lack of coverage too. And when I really think on it, the only reason I know who she is thanks to Yahoo’s post on who won the gold. I scrolled through every picture and was excited to see her. And me being a young black woman wanted to know more about someone who won gold who looks like me. I think Nell Ruby is right. She is a “wholely realized person.” But I think its more than that. Gabby represents the side of the coin that society tells young dark skinned women that they cannot be as beautiful, and elegant, and poised as the status quo. Her triumph has more impact on race politics than women’s issues because, as you said, she competed in the recognized effeminate sport of gymnastics. Claressa represents the other side of the coin. She has grace and elegance; it’s just deadly. Her triumph impacts things on both fronts. She is not a helpless damsel in distress, so the standard intimidation by “bigger, badder” men in a man’s world is invalid. In addition, she proves that minorities are not helpless and can succeed. She gets her hands dirty and fights, as women are not “supposed” to do. So I agree. Claressa is a double threat and a bigger hero than she knows.

  3. justanotheropinion August 25, 2012 at 2:52 AM #

    Thank you for this post. I tuned out of Olympic coverage since NBC’s coverage was atrocious at best (a topic for whole other discussion). I bow my head and say I am sorry to say that I never heard about Claressa (neither from NBC or mainstream media -shocker, I know!). Let me say that she IS a credit to our race and that I would be DAMN proud if my daughter emulated her and followed in her footsteps (as hard as it would be for a Momma to see her baby take punches). I COMMEND this young woman for where she has come from and what she has accomplished.

    Thank you Claressa for bringing home the GOLD MEDAL! I applaud you. I salute you. I appreciate you. You’ve got the grit my friend and you will go far. Thank you for your struggle & your accomplishment. You are a true medal winner and hero to our young folk. As those before us have said: ” Keep on keepin on”!

  4. Kal August 25, 2012 at 12:15 PM #

    I am in my 60s and have been fascinated by women’s boxing ever since I read of it many years ago. It is a field that is new enough to merit attention and yet not popular enough to demand capital support. Male boxing gold medal winners are offered generous terms to become professional so far as I can tell, while there are quite a few female boxers the professional field is vanishingly small. The money people have yet to catch the bug or see the light. I am not a boxing fan but I am a fan of women blazing new trails for themselves and others who were kept away by leery parents and peer ridicule. Women I have known have mostly been very smart and inordinately tough yet nimble as a cat being chased by a silly, clumsy dog.

  5. Amanda August 25, 2012 at 5:25 PM #

    I love understanding the intersectionalities of politics and sports. Here’s one of the better titles I have read dealing with masculinity and the Olympics: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/553313.Who_Da_Man_

  6. Megan September 4, 2012 at 5:39 PM #

    One time for combat athletes. I grapple (didn’t face TOO much criticism since I started as an adult), but the sexism is APPAULING. Only the “pretty” fighters can make a good living/get good endorsements. Props to Claressa and thanks for bringing her to my attention (I don’t tend to follow strikers).

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