The title of this diary includes the title of a movie (now available on Netflix and Amazon), Concrete Cowboy, which tells the story of the living tradition of horse riding in the Black community of Philadelphia.
Which is to say, it is the story of a community struggling to retain its culture and traditions despite generations of the corrosive effects of systemic racism to destroy it:
'Some kind of modern day western': inside the world of concrete cowboys.
In Netflix drama Concrete Cowboy, an often underappreciated subculture of black Philadelphia cowboys is explored at a time when gentrification threatens their future
David Smith/ The Guardian
3 Apr 2021
Ask someone what Philadelphia is known for and they are likely to answer cheesesteak, the declaration of independence or the Rocky films starring Sylvester Stallone. It is a safe bet they won’t say black cowboys.
Or a self-described black cowgirl like Ivannah-Mercedes. “When I tell people I ride horses, they’re like, ‘Here, in Philadelphia? Where are the horses?’” she says. “But when people see me on the horse in Philadelphia, it usually involves cameras and ‘Oh, my goodness, can I pet your horse? And where’d you guys come from?’
The story of the movie is centered on an aspect of modern urban life that seems incongruous— stables of horses and the tradition of skilled riding in a eastern city of two million inhabitants— if only because the dominant White supremacist culture tells us that such people, doing such things, do not belong in this location, at this time:
Sep 6, 2019
After all, they’ve been crafting their own histories — in a town that’s far from a cowboy destination — for decades…
[Ron Vasser] has researched black cowboys since the early 1970s. That’s when a high school friend, Lamont “Rocky” Watson, moved away from Chicago “to be one of the first black cowboys out West” — or so they thought.
Once Watson arrived in the Southwest, he relayed just how wrong their assumptions were. Black ranchers, ropers and riders were no rarity; they lived right alongside their white counterparts, Vasser said.
The depth of that culture was a revelation, even for two black men who had always aspired to be cowboys. Vasser said the experience proved how the history of the West — and the history of America itself — has been whitewashed.
Vasser believes his generation could’ve developed a more inclusive definition of “the American spirit” if he’d grown up with visible black cowboys to complement icons like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
“If that had happened, black kids would have a different feeling and idea about themselves, and so would other whites about blacks,” Vasser said.
Instead, “it’s like this country just happened, and we were the slaves who didn’t do nothing,” he said.
White-washing History= Cultural Genocide
One of the most pernicious and destructive effects of White supremacist domination is the literal erasure of reality— the past that actually happened does not exist, and so the people who are connected to that past, who are living that legacy, have no independent existence that the dominant racist caste need acknowledge:
Evoking History, Black Cowboys Take to the Streets
The presence of black cowboys and cowgirls at protests is a reclaiming of the traditional role of mounted riders in demonstrations in urban communities.
Updated June 11, 2020
...this past Sunday in Compton, Calif., a group of black men and women known as the Compton Cowboys led a peaceful protest through the streets with Mayor Aja Brown. As hundreds of people marched alongside, the cowboys rode with their fists raised in the air, yelling “No justice, no peace” as the music of Kendrick Lamar, also from Compton, blared in the background.
The presence of black cowboys and cowgirls at the recent protests is a reclaiming of sorts of the traditional role of mounted riders in demonstrations in urban communities.
Historically, horses have been used by elite military units and law enforcement as a way to show authority, their visibility, height and commanding nature a symbol of power.
That black horse riders exist in these metropolitan cities, however, should not come as a surprise — one out of every four cowboys during the 19th century was of African-American descent.
The efforts to eradicate this living history is a primary tactic of White supremacist domination— an attempt to render an entire people powerless, unable to defend itself, because it becomes a community disconnected from itself, its own identity:
The Black Cowboys Whitewashed from American History
The photographs and videos in "Black Cowboy" at the Studio Museum show images of nonwhite cowboys, bringing Americana in line with historical accuracy.
February 8, 2017
The Studio Museum in Harlem’s Black Cowboy seeks to rectify the whitewashed identity of an American archetype. The cowboy — a historical figure, a way of life and livelihood, a symbol of Manifest Destiny, an advertising trope, an idealized version of manhood, and a tragic loner — is no simple symbol. But before considering these nuances, Black Cowboy is primarily concerned with showing nonwhite cowboys, bringing Americana in line with historical accuracy. For example, the wall text notes that in the 1800s, 25% of cowboys in Texas were African American, and that cowboy culture (horsemanship, western saddles, rodeo traditions) persists to this day in black urban communities from Los Angeles to New York, and in rural areas in between.
While anyone who’s spent time in the southwest wouldn’t think the cowboy a white phenomenon, those not from the region might see iconic representations, including the Marlboro Man, Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, and James Dean’s role in Giant, and assume all cowboys are blonde-haired and blue-eyed…
Four images by Ron Tarver show cowboys riding through urban or semi-urban environments. These works are evocative visual juxtapositions, particularly one in which a man in a cowboy hat rides past a mural of Malcolm X — two disparate symbols of independence meeting for a moment...
The presence of Black men and women on horseback is not a merely symbol (for all the symbolic references to what it means to be American), it is a demonstration of empowerment, self-determination, and an immediate rebuttal the White supremacist mythos of America:
“Black cowboys are a huge part of the street culture in New Orleans,” Rabut says. “They are out at all the second lines every Sunday. Their horses have learned to side step and dance to the music, either brass music or bounce. They also participate in all the Mardi Gras parades. My friend talks about how his horse responds to Mardi Gras Indian chants, which I thought was really beautiful.”
With the visibility of Black cowboys at BLM protests, a sense of hope and pride fills the air despite the horrors that have brought us here. “I feel like it’s tragic and beautiful at the same time,’ Rabut says. “It feels really powerful to be a part of this because this is the biggest Civil Rights Movement in world history and we’re all a part of it.”
For those interested, the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club has a gofundme page.