Black cowboys white-washed out of wild west narrative

Can you imagine if Billy the Kid and The Lone Ranger were Black? It’s not as far fetched as you might think.

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When you hear the word “cowboy” you probably imagine someone like John Wayne galloping up from behind rolling hills, or Clint Eastwood walking through a dusty town and whipping out his pistols for a gunfight.

Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, the wild, wild west’s cowboys weren’t all white. One in four cowboys was Black, according to historians. And one of the most famous cowboys, the Lone Ranger, may have been inspired by the life of African-American escaped slave Bass Reeves. And, of course, we can’t forget cowgirls and the Indigenous Peoples of the wild west scene.

But, when I Google images for “cowboy” it isn’t until the 31st image that a cowboy of colour comes up. And that’s after a picture of a Lego man and a toddler (in spots three and 19 respectively).   

Diversity gets erased from so many narratives.

This February is Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada. Its foundations are credited to Black historian and author Carter G. Woodson who “witnessed how Black people were underrepresented in the books and conversations that shaped the study of American history.”  

That was in the 1910s. So how can we make sure that the Google results of the future fill in what has been erased?

For us at The Discourse, we want to include people who have all kinds of different experiences in our reporting. Do you know diverse folk who we can add to our roster of experts? Anyone from authors, researchers, academics, artists, farmers, survivors, advocates, troublemakers and rabble rousers. Email us their names and why they are rad.

Did you hear?

  • Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech was kind of improvised. PBS shares that and nine other little known Black History facts in this list.
  • There’s a new tool that is live tracking the number of women and men quoted in news across Canada.  Informed Opinions, in partnership with Simon Fraser University created the Gender Gap Tracker where you can see the ratio of voices by gender in major media outlets.
  • You had me at Black” is a podcast where millennials are “reclaiming the Black narrative” through storytelling that focuses on the “mis- and underrepresentation of Black men and women in mainstream media.” The first episode, “Lit as a Feather” tells the story of how a 10-year-old jazz player accidentally lit an apartment on fire. Season 6 starts in March.  
  • The Nod” is another podcast that tells the stories of “Black life that don’t get told anywhere else.” Like this story, “The Cowboy of The West Village,” of the singer who may or may not have thrown the first punch at Stonewall.  

Updates from Cowichan

The exhibit Stigmatized exposed the harsh realities of life on the streets in the Cowichan Valley.

“Nobody is going to get clean, living on the streets,” says Stacy Middlemiss, who runs a peer support group for current and former drug users in the Cowichan Valley. Like the rest of Canada, the people of Cowichan are facing a housing affordability crunch that has pushed more people onto the street, combined with an influx of high-potency opioid drugs in the street market.

That’s why community reporter Jacqueline Ronson’s most recent newsletter, and latest community-driven reporting topic, explores addictions and mental health. What else is missing from the conversation? Send her a note here. [end]

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