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a brief history of the yeehaw agenda

March 12, 2019
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Erased from the narrative on how the United States purchased stolen land from Spain at the expense of Indigenous communities are the contributions of Black cowboys, the predominant labor force behind the ranching industry of the Southern United States. Approximately one of four cowboys were African American, subjected to discriminatory policies and practices, they created a communal culture built on the shared principles of equality, respect, and love. The open road afforded Black cowboys an unmatched sense of freedom and ownership, removed from the overtly white supremacists routines of South; where the only job opportunities were subservient positions to white men in power. The emergence of railroad corporations resulted in Black cowboys transition into rodeo, which at first refused them entry, until Cleo Hearn, made history as the first Black cowboy to win at a major rodeo. Hern’s win reflected the generational advancements of enslaved Black folx who dared to change their communities history in the South through reclamation of an artistry, reminiscent of cultural practices from our ancestors motherland.

Since the emergence of planet, our collective understanding of the Earth’s produce and livestock has enabled Black communities to sustain in areas unfamiliar and hostile towards us. As the foundation for the nation’s agricultural industry for generations, Black communities gained knowledge on how to create their own spaces in exploitative industries built on the contributions of labor, and refusal of our genius. Myrtis Dightman embodied our spirits as he sought the world title in rodeo, a white man’s game that was conceived from Black ranch hands and bronc riders in Texas. In response to racist stakeholders in power which sought to hinder their access to institutions created by their forefathers, Black cowboys created Southwestern Colored Cowboys Association, a Black-led organization that hosted events in the “Soul Circuit”, predominantly Black communities along the Gulf Coast of Texas and granted cowboys the opportunity to display their artistry for thousands.

Black cowboys found solace in their communities, who affirmed their talents, and continuation of an ancestral legacy. Dightman sought to continue this lineage through a relationship between Prairie View A&M University, a Historical Black College and University, and the Black communities in Houston through the Black cowboy tradition for future generations. The university agreed to foster a partnership through Prairie View Trail Riders Association, the first Black trail association in the state, educates students on campus through horse rider safety courses. The long history of training horses has kept the tradition alive in Black communities among Texas, and is evident in popular culture as Black women creatives such as Solange Knowles, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, and Cardi B incorporate aesthetics of cowboy culture into their creative projects.

Originated from Houston, the epicenter of Texas’ cowboy history, these ladies have utilized their regional heritage to innovate Black popular culture. Evident in Solange Knowles’ When I Get Home, the singer highlighted Black cowboys through a series of visuals to pay homage to the city that made her, and affirmed her Texan Blackness within samples from DJ Screw, the father of Houston’s chopped and screwed music. Daddy Lessons by Beyonce Knowles utilized the musical medley of country and blues music to paint the paternal relationship between her and Matthew Knowles paid tribute to her Houston Roots. In her record breaking headline performance at the Houston Rodeo, Cardi B donned cowgirl apparel as she paid respect to Selena, a Tejano legend who inspired the rapper’s outfit in Please Me. Black Texas culture is being adapted into the mainstream as a source of innovation from artists reclaiming their Southern roots post Great Migration.

This trend named The Yeehaw Agenda originated from Bri Malandro, a young Black women from Dallas in 2018, to highlight Black cowboys and cowgirls in popular culture. “It’s a play on ‘The Gay Agenda’ and I just started using it every time I’d see one of my faves in western wear. My mind is a weird place so I’m never going to just say, oh, wow, western wear is popular again. I have to say The Yeehaw Agenda is still going strong to really drive the point home. I think for younger people who haven’t seen these pictures before it’ll change what pops in their head when they hear Cowboy/Cowgirl,” Malandro said. As a Texas native, she sought to utilize The Yee Haw Agenda social media accounts to draw attention to an important aspect of our culture that historically has been whitewashed from the narrative. Inspired accounts such as Black girls in cowboy hats, and the presence of Western fashion’s influence on artists such as Kelela, Diana Gordon, and Janelle Monae. As we progress in pop culture, the greatest innovations come from the ancestral traditions and beliefs passed down by the daughters of this nation’s first Black cowboys. When we seek out the comfort of our communal practices, we achieve a collective appreciation for the talents and beliefs left to us by our ancestors who first paved the road for us.