@theyeehawagenda explores the sartorial influence of the Wild West and its forgotten black cowboys
What comes to mind when you hear the word “yee-haw”? For most, it’s probably an image from the classic American Western films and TV shows that dominated much of the 20th century: cult stories that followed the violent but glamorous journeys of white cowboys fighting against either the natives or each other. Rarely in these films and television shows did black cowboys appear as heroes – but that’s not because they didn’t exist. In fact, many IRL black cowboys were on the scene at the height of the cowboy movement in the early 1800s: a point that Bri Malandro, the person who coined the term ‘The Yee-Haw Agenda’ late last year, is currently attempting to highlight via her Instagram account @theyeehawagenda.
“Black cowboys have literally always been here regardless of the image most people get when they hear the word ‘cowboy’,” says Malandro. “I think the main thing I’ve learned is that a lot of people had no idea that was the case. I’m happy I could be a part of bringing it to the light in some way.”
Having uncovered countless images of black people dressed in cowboy style clothing, Malandro began sharing her findings on Twitter last November. It was here that ‘The Yee-Haw Agenda’ was born. Quickly, her use of the expression took off and other Twitter users began using it to describe the black stars they spotted in Western-inspired looks: unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s likely you’ll have heard someone talking about it somewhere.
After people continued to tag Malandro in the photos they found, she decided to launch @theyeehawagenda last month as a way to centrally curate images of black historical figures and film characters, as well as the contemporary entertainers and social media users who are visually and sonically inspired by the Western aesthetic. “I knew someone was going to make that page if I didn’t and I had to make sure it was done correctly,” explains Malandro.
Posts include images of a young Destiny’s Child in their iconic pale blue Western gear, legendary 70s actress Pam Grier dripping in leather and fringe, and Lisa Left-Eye Lopez looking brown cow stunning in hide chaps and a bikini top, as well as lesser-known Yee-Haw enthusiasts who’ve embraced the trend.
Though Malandro coined the contemporary cowboy movement’s name, she agrees it’s been bubbling under the surface for some time. So how and why did it suddenly explode and blow up internationally? “I’ve said before: Beyoncé started it with “Daddy Lessons” and I definitely wasn’t the first person saying it online,” she says. The 2016 country-inspired track, which appeared on seminal album Lemonade, came as a shock to both Beyoncé and country fans, but certainly triggered something. Since then, the likes of Travis Scott, Azealia Banks, and, more recently, Lil Nas X have also channelled the majesticity of black cowboys in a series of country-tinged tracks and videos.
With all of the celebrities adopting this trend, Malandro believes that her Instagram account will help people connect with a part of black history that has been overshadowed and forgotten as a result of media whitewashing and general American racism. “You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from,” she explains. “That’s a cliché-ass statement, but it’s true! A lot of people who submit to the page may have never even thought to explore that side of their history before. Also there’s a lot of racist people who have a problem with it, so why not make them mad and look good doing it?”
Although the Instagram account has exposed her to a wealth of knowledge about black Western culture, she’s still learning new things constantly. “I think my favourite thing was learning that Pam Grier is an actual rancher now,” Malandro concludes. More people need to talk about that because it’s fucking Pam Grier. Y’all need to interview her next.”