(Ben Green) #1




The cowboy has long been
one of America’s most potent sym-
bols. Strivers have taken inspira-
tion from rugged frontier warriors
who embodied American individ-
ualism, creativity and the quest for
manifest destiny.
For the most part, these icons
have been confined to the narrow
image of the white man, despite
the fact that during the golden
age of westward expansion, 1 in 4
cowboys was black. But in 2019,
this uniformity was challenged by
a new generation of black artists
in a movement that has come to
be known as the Yeehaw Agenda.
As expressed in fashion, film and
pop music, the Yeehaw Agenda
reflects a moment of transition in
which the very idea of American
identity is being contested.
Coined by Twitter user Bri
Malandro, the Yeehaw Agenda
achieved critical mass, thanks to

We live in an era
of both peak self-
and peak self-
protection. Why be
a real person, with
glorious flaws and
when it’s easier to
curate a persona on
Instagram? Why risk
an encounter with a
fellow human when
you can just shove a
pair of white sticks in
your ears? But Keanu
Reeves, a living
entreaty to keep
all of our receptors
open, shows us
another path. In
movies like this
year’s John Wick:
Chapter 3—
Parabellum, as well
as Toy Story 4, in
which he provides the
voice of charmingly
insecure daredevil
Duke Caboom,
there’s thought
behind everything he
does: movement is
acting, speaking is
acting, listening is

acting, just being is
acting. But images
of Reeves out in
the world—being
a regular person,
maybe holding the
hand of someone
who’s dear to him—
tell us even more
about all the things
we may be doing
wrong and Reeves
may be doing right.
On the Toy Story 4
red carpet, in June,
an interviewer
asked how he
felt about having
been dubbed “the
Internet’s boyfriend.”
this was the first
he’d heard of it.
“That’s wacky!”
he said, smiling
quietly, accepting
the compliment
graciously but
also acknowledging
its illusory nature.
Memes are
ephemeral, but we
live in our own skin
for a lifetime.
—Stephanie Zacharek



The “Internet’s boyfriend” reminds
us to be present in the real world

a viral TikTok challenge in which
people in cowboy getups danced to a
little-known song called “Old Town
Road.” The artist, Lil Nas X, mixed
country and trap musical elements
with a Western camp flair, and it be-
came the longest-running Billboard
No. 1 song ever. Other breakout
stars Megan Thee Stallion and Lizzo
wore flamboyant Western outfits in
their videos, and trap-country artist
Blanco Brown sparked his own viral
dance craze, “The Git Up.” Even
Solange, a more established artist,
broadcast rodeo images in a com-
panion film to her album.
Black cowboys flooded the run-
way, with LaQuan Smith, Pyer
Moss and Telfar Clemens leading
the charge, and Billy Porter wore
an asymmetrical cowboy hat to
accept the first Emmy awarded
to an out gay man for best actor
in a drama series. In Melina Mat-
soukas’ feature directorial debut,
Queen & Slim, about two black
outlaws, a pivotal scene revolves
around Slim riding a horse for the
first time. “Nothing scares a white
man more than a black man on
a horse,” Queen tells him.
Antwaun Sargent, an author and
critic who helped spread images
of the Yeehaw Agenda on Twitter,
says it’s no surprise that these
creators are turning to the cowboy.
“We’re in a moment where black
cultural producers are being given
the opportunity—or taking the
opportunity—to reinsert narratives
that have been swept under the rug
or have not been considered central
to our respective industries,” he says.
“The Yeehaw Agenda has shown that
we have the opportunity to correct
narratives in this country.” □

With the Yeehaw Agenda, black artists are
correcting the record By Andrew R. Chow

Porter before the
Emmys, on Sept. 22
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