I saw this asinine meme about Netflix adaptations making movies more diverse. This one was about Westerns with Black cowboys. But movies are the only reason we think cowboys were all white. Fact is, 25% of cowboys were Black. It was a job Black people at the time could get, and so they did.

“Right after the Civil War, being a cowboy was one of the few jobs open to men of color who wanted to not serve as elevator operators or delivery boys or other similar occupations,” says William Loren Katz, a scholar of African-American history and the author of 40 books on the topic, including The Black West.

There were Black cowboys for the same reason women worked and wore pants while doing it: Because there was a lot of work to do. They still had to deal with racist business owners who wouldn't let them enter stores or hotels on the way. But getting cattle from Texas to the meat packing centers up north was labor intensive, so it was all hands on deck. Then later, Hollywood whitewashed the whole thing.

This is Nat Love, a former slave who became a cowboy. A lot of freed slaves had no ability to own property, but they had horse-handing skills they learned working in plantation stables, or from Mexican vaqueros, or Indigenous people who raised horses.

You could take this as another example of people who, given no other option, had little choice but to take part in an exploitative system that was part of pushing Indigenous people off their land and colonizing the West. And Black workers got little respect doing it. Then that job gets mythologized and whitewashed to build white supremacist culture.

There's a wikipedia entry that I can't confirm, but it says the word itself, "cowboy" was reserved for Black workers, while white workers were called "cowhands," making it a racist pejorative until the term "cowboy" grew in popularity. Again, I can't find a great source on that, but it makes sense.

@InternetEh on that note, though, i've heard that a lot of cowboys were also Native, and now i'm wondering what the equivalent number to the OP is for them...

@carcinopithecus that I don't know, but I'm sure it's true. There was a lot of interrelationships between racial groups. And a lot of white, Black or latine people ran off and lived with Indigenous people too.

@InternetEh I've heard that 19th Century #cowboys didn'T wear what we call cowboy hats either. Hollywood...

@mpjgregoire I think the hats they wore were broader brimmed, like a vaquero hat. The object was to keep branches and twigs out of your face

Sign in to participate in the conversation is a Mastodon instance for dads, running the Hometown fork of Mastodon.