BLACK COWBOY CULTURE FROM A TO Z
The current yeehaw moment has officially reached peak performativity – with the innocent over-use of the cowboy emoji devolving into what reputable fashion magazines call the “Black Western Movement.” As someone from the suburbs of California with roots in the South, I can confidently say that “movement” isn’t the right word. Mass fashion media will lead you to believe that people are just now starting to reclaim their ROC (roots of color) in cowboy culture, when the reality is that cowboy culture IS Black and brown. Those identifying with it aren’t the ones being represented in what has been dubbed the “Black Western Movement,” which places sole importance on the postmodern edginess of mixing canonically urban Black and “Wild, Wild, West” aesthetics together rather than the people who invented those aesthetics, and how the assumption of a racialized cowboy is incorrect all together. The “Wild, Wild, West” doesn’t even exist – the idea was invented by Hollywood to create and sell the genre of “the Western” which invented the commercialized cowboy we know now from stereotypes of Southerners to tell stories about Westward migration. As you can hopefully tell by now, there are many intersecting ideas present in the “Black Western Movement,” so with that said, here is my A-Z list of Black/POC Cowboys.
A – ATLANTA From Outkast to literally every strip club ever, Atlanta is a Southern hub. Much of the canon of Blackness comes from the South as it where slavery was primarily enacted in America (see: plantations). Many Black Americans such as myself find our direct lineage traced back to the South as the origin – obviously it would go further back, but colonization ensured that our ancestors’ records were destroyed. Atlanta is what I would consider an emblem of the South, with both its modern and contemporary cultural history.
B – BLM No, not Black Lives Matter. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a part of the United States Department of the Interior that manages 700 million acres of US land. Created in 1946 by President Harry S. Truman, the BLM was an extension to the Homestead Act of 1862 which provided public accessibility to Western land for homesteaders heading west. There’s a lot happening right now with the BLM and Tr*mp – deffo give it a look.
C – Cowperson/Cowthey/them A gender-neutral term for our gender non-conforming (GNC), genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary and trans folx! This term gained traction during what you may call the present “Black Western Movement.”
D – Dale My favorite character from King of the Hill. A homegrown rider from Texas, Dale is my favorite Libertarian.
E – Egg and Spoon’ing A cowboy competition in which you and an opponent mount your horses with an egg on a spoon and attempt to successfully master the horse’s gait without dropping the egg. I feel like I read about this in a children’s book once…
F – FILLY A female horse and/or a young single woman. #fillygirlsummer
G – GIT “Go’on nah, GIT ! We don’t taking kindly to your folk ‘round these here parts!” – several of my vague ideas of white cowboys
H – HEN FRUIT Eggs !
I – INDIANS Ethnically/nationally incorrect name given to Native Americans by European colonizers. There are several debates surrounding the use of this word, all of which place the autonomy of Native American populations at the forefront. Definitely worth the research!
J – jethro d. jeterson My alter ego. He enjoys Miller High Life out of a champagne flute and potato chip chicken. No, I don’t know what that entails either.
K – KINERO American appropriation of an unknown Spanish word signifying early North American Latino herdsman. Once these herdsmen took to horseback, the term ‘kinero’ fell off. (SEE: VAQUEROS/AS)
L – LIL NAS X The man, the myth, the mystery. You can consider Lil Nas X as the nucleus of the critical mass situation that yeehaw culture has become with the controversy surrounding his multi-platinum song, ‘Old Town Road,’ and whether or not the trap fusion invalidates the work from the country genre, even though there are more country music influences than there are trap influences from a sonic point of view. The assertion that this sonic invalidation doesn’t happen turned into the insertion of contemporary Black culture into the canon of “yeehaw” and “country” that white people were desperately trying to keep nice and mayonnaise-y. In the end, the only winners were corporations who are now able to capitalize on the postmodern assertion of Black cowpeople (though we know the truth.)
M – MEG THEE STALLION The second horseman to the apocalypse. Kidding! Sister Meg is a Texas baddie WITH a degree serving us her cowboy roots on a very hot platter. I am in love with her.
N – NAG An old horse exhausted from years of work. Also another term for women – this time instead of being unmarried, she’s just annoying. (see: Marmeladov @ Katerina Invanovna)
O – Old West All American states West of the Mississippi River, beginning with the in-betweener states of Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Louisiana.
P – Pahtnuh “Pahtnuh, pahtnuh, lemme lemme upgrade u,” – Beyoncé
Q – QUENTIN TARANTINO He made a “Spaghetti Western” once. If you asked me who I would dub the supreme ruler of aestheticizing aspects of cowboy energy in shallow Hollywood fashion, it would be Tarantino.
R – ROPE
You can use it to make lassos, you can use it to fortify your caravan, the possibilities are endless.
S – SOLANGE Southern mama from good ole’ Texas. When I Get Home (2019) exemplifies her yeehaw heritage in an odd mix of brutalist architecture, black cowboys/rancheros and…normcore? The album still makes me feel some type of way, but we will question even Queen Solange’s implicitly harmful impact via the zeitgeist.
T – TEXAS An odd place! Texas is the largest state in the USA, and is the easiest image-word association to the idea of the Southwest. While during Westward expansion in the late 19th century, Texas was considered a part of the West. In today’s contemporary moment we consider Texas to be the south, which can be seen culturally in differences from Texan culture and dominant Western culture, that is an appropriation of many Southern aspects.
U – UPSCUDDLE A ~cowboy~ word for fight! I think of it as akin to how we use the phrase “squabble up” in SoCal.
V – VAQUEROS/AS Latino/a herdsmen/women. Their culture is based on the Spanish colonization of México in the 16 th century, when ranches with Spanish livestock were installed by the conquistadors. Thus the vaquero was born! It is said that vaqueros only got off their horses to dance with lil mamis at the function – which is ultimate badassery. It is also known that a lof of the aesthetics we associate with Hollywood’s “Wild, Wild, West” are appropriations of vaquero garb. In other words, fuck Clint Eastwood – I’m tryna get that vaquero drip.
W – WESTERN (genre) A genre of film focused on the late 19th century Westward migration based in ideas of freedom, settlement, opportunity, and of course, toxic masculinity. Hollywood’s glamorization is inevitable, however certain appropriations of Latino horseriding culture (vaqueros, gauchos) were lifted as to aestheticize and erase the brown populations who invented what Hollywood turned into our modern notion of a “cowboy.” I still love Deliverance though. (Yes - I know it’s technically a thriller, but I regard is as a Western solely because of the banjo).
X – X Illiterate populations would use an X to signify their names on documents. As you can see, this presents problems for the subjugation of the illiterate, but hey. America.
Y – Y’ALL Conjunction of “you all.” Often used today, as a part of Southern culture that bled into the mainstream.
Z – ZEITGEIST Google defines a zeitgeist as “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” When I mention the postmodern, this is what I mean to attribute to the zeitgeist. I believe we have an idea of what the future is going to look like, and it is a look based on hybridity and diversity that feels revolutionary in how it challenges the status quo, but dangerously proposes a uniformed flavor of diversity that is more homogenous than we like to think. The fact that people
genuinely use the term “Black Western Movement” is proof of this – on the outside, it looks like accessibility, and feels revolutionary in that it challenges the Hollywood notion of the White cowboy by aesthetically asserting Blackness, but what is actually happening here?
Let’s remember to be critical of what might look like a positive stride, especially when the main weapon used to challenge an existing system of oppression is aesthetics. By that, I mean that being Black and putting on a pair of cowboy boots doesn’t mean you’re challenging anything, and the only thing changing with those boots is the larger capitalist machine, which just learned that Millennials/Gen Z are more inclined to buy something if they can sell it as a tool to align oneself socially.