Blacks in the Wild West
I recently had the opportunity to participate in one interesting discussion on Facebook on the page of a famous film critic. One of my friends complained about the dominance of political correctness in the new westerns – here in the trailer of the new “Gorgeous Seven” a black character appears, as in many previous westerns of recent years, where “racial diversity” is almost a prerequisite. Without the “black cowboys” nowhere. Although we know that real cowboys should be white, and “Afro-cowboys” have the same relation to historical truth as, for example, the black knights at the court of King Arthur – that is, no one – but they help to attract African-American audiences to the cinemas and protect against criticisms of the liberal public that “the problems of cisgender white middle-aged people no longer bother anyone.”
I was about to like this post and flip through the feed further, but at the last moment I somehow doubted: why do cowboys have to be white? Perhaps simply because we all grew up with these images in popular books and films of our time? Us – former Soviet children – this is especially true. Of course, we loved westerns very much, but the choice was extremely limited. In literature – a solid Mine Reed with noble Indians, the heroes of our childhood, and, of course, with Morris-Mustanger, who is not just white, but also an Irish aristocrat, the path is even very impoverished. And the black ones are already from some other stories, such as “Uncle Tom’s Huts” or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, clogged with funny characters who call the whites “mass” (not in the sense of biomass, but distorted from master, that is, “master” )
True, there were a lot of Westerns in the cinema. In the socialist camp they were made almost exclusively in East Germany, but the cast was international – the main cowboy was the communist singer Dean Reed who escaped from America, and the main Indian was Yugoslav Goiko Mitich, the idol of the boys of Eastern Europe. Both the cowboys and the Indians were about the same degree of whiteness, so even the very expression “redskins” seemed quite arbitrary to us.
Then, when the real American westerns and almost the same real Italians were revealed to us, it turned out that everything was about the same with racial diversity, although the mustachioed Mexicans were added to the sombrero, and the Indians looked more convincing. Blacks, if they appeared, were only in some plots related to plantations of the South.
Does this picture of the world correspond to historical realities? It seems that not: a simple search on the Internet gives an avalanche of information about the black history of the Wild West. Including many historical photos with black guys in full cowboy outfit, including hats, stylish long coats and, of course, colts. Which is quite natural – because the West was open to everyone, including the fugitives, and then to the freed slaves, there was enough land and work for everyone there. As for discrimination and prejudice, then, as you know, God created people different, but Sam Colt equalized them all in their rights.
The Wild West was especially attractive to the so-called buffalo soldiers — soldiers and officers of the “black” units of the army of the North. At the end of the Civil War, many of them went west. They were dashing people, with considerable combat experience, good weapons skills and without excessive piety towards the whites. The Wild West with its diversity of opportunities and a high degree of personal autonomy was the most suitable place for them. So Major Marcus Warren, played by Samuel L. Jackson in The Abominable Eight, had many real prototypes.
Historical literature reports: there were many blacks in the West. According to Texas Black Cowboys, of the approximately 35,000 black cowboys in the state, there were between five and nine thousand at various times. This means that the proportion of blacks among all Texas cowboys ranged from 14.7 to 25.7%, which is even higher than the proportion of African Americans in today’s US population – 12.6%. That is, even statistically at least one member of the randomly assembled “Great Seven” should be black, and this is no more strange than the presence of a black character in any other American film.
Blacks in the Wild West weren’t just cowboys. According to historical chronicles, they were both farmers, and owners of their own ranches, and rodeo stars, and were also actively represented among outlaws, that is, bandits, and, although much less often, among the servants of the law. Black outlaws in modern westerns periodically meet – for example, the hero of Morgan Freeman in Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven”.