Welcome to Politics of Style — a column wherein I will consider all manner of presentation in popular culture through the lens of identity politics. With each installment, I’ll seek to contextualize the media we consume by connecting the dots between aesthetics, cultural production and social/cultural/political significance with levity… or not.
Here are two words I never thought I’d say in seriousness: howdy, patnas. But guess what? I mean it, because the Yeehaw Agenda is here.
If you’re not ready to giddyup then maybe you haven’t heard of the delightful trend that is capturing the hearts and minds of all Americans. Okay, maybe not all Americans, but at least a good chunk of Black Americans and all of those who really… “appreciate” us (hot take: all Americans!).
Annnnyway, pop culture has recently seen a resurgence of trends related to or stemming from aesthetics largely associated with cowboys and herding cattle and such. We saw these kinds of images all over the visuals for Solange’s latest release. Cardi B’s been rocking chaps. NBA style, apparently, has “literally become the wild west.” This, my friend, is the rise of all that is “yeehaw.” And while it’s been reported on as a broad cultural movement encompassing all contemporary interest in cowboy fashion and culture, it’s also a trend specifically born out of the complex relationship Black people have with America(na).
“When I started using the term [yeehaw agenda] online it was just in celebration of fly Black girls in western looks but it’s become a whole movement,” Bri Malandro, a pop culture archivist from Houston who coined the term tells me. Now she runs the account @yeehawagenda, where she shares images of Black people in westernwear and doing such cowboy-esque things as riding horses in an attempt to change what people associate with western style and culture. As Brooklyn White writes, “Malandro’s content is a form of reclamation.”
A reclamation of what?, you may want to know. From where I sit (at my computer in Brooklyn as a born-and-bred northeasterner), this reclamation is about Black people taking up the space we have always occupied but often been denied: In the occupied territories we call America, in U.S. history, in pop culture at large. It’s about taking credit when it’s due yet not given. The way I see it, “yeehaw” loosely translates to, “We outchea. Always have been — let me remind ya.”
For example, the yeehaw agenda has reminded us to consider the crucial contributions Black folk made to the American ranching industry; how Black cowboys are typically “erased from the narrative on how the United States purchased stolen land from Spain at the expense of Indigenous communities.” Conversations have been reignited about how back in the day, one in four cowboys was Black, which of course leads to conversations about all of the discrimination Black cowboys experienced, and all of the ways Black folk resisted that discrimination. But the yeehaw agenda doesn’t just give us new eyes with which to view our past — it helps us contextualize our pop cultural present (in which one of the hottest rappers in the game right now is a Houston woman named Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Nas X is a thing) too.
Bri Malandro isn’t the only femme celebrating the ways Black folk participate in narratives often thought of as belonging to the American South and West but not to Black people. Gaby Wilson runs @blackgirlsincowboyhats, a living archive dedicated to Black femmes making westernwear an intentional aesthetic choice — which she sees as both sartorial and subversive: “The image of a Black woman in a cowboy hat at this moment — historically, politically, culturally — it’s the antithesis of an old white dude in a MAGA hat, basically; of this new nationalist, anti-Black thing. This is Black women reclaiming an old piece of Americana for themselves, and there’s something really cool and powerful about that.”
In that sense, Gaby’s account is political, but it’s also just a space to celebrate Black women — our ingenuity; our creativity; our ability to turn and everything into a drip. “Everyone has the same prop,” she says. “A cowboy hat is very flamboyant, it commands attention, it’s fun to wear. The brim turns out, there’s no other hat that looks like it — they’re crazy. Some of my favorite submissions are when the hats are embellished or bedazzled in some sort of way. It’s exciting to see what people can do to them, because as objects, cowboy hats are just fun.”
OMG, cowboy hats ARE fun. Honestly I don’t know what’s more fun — cowboy hats as objects, or interrogating what they mean semiotically and for the culture. Which is what we’ve just done here! As per usual, hope y’all enjoyed this little foray into fashion and such. Can’t wait to chat with y’all about it in the comments. And do tell: What would you like to see covered in a future Politics of Style? Lmk that, plz, and where I might be able to get some cute chaps at a good price.
Photo by Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images.