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Horsemen of the Anthropocene: Black Urban Cowboys, Resilience and Reclamations of Space

Authors: Courtney Berne*, Geography and Urban Studies Department Temple University
Topics: Animal Geographies, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: more-than-human, Anthropocene, black urban cowboy, American West
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual Track 4
Presentation Link: Open in New Window

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Within north Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood a group of dedicated African American urban cowboys called the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club rescue retired racehorses at auction to increase social capital within their neighborhood. For over a century, these human-equine connections have been life-saving for both man and horse. Situated on self-sustained vacant lots, these inconspicuous stables provide respite within deeply entrenched, historically racialized inequities persisting amidst a culturally rich environment. Despite the traditionally DIY status of the black urban cowboy, artists and filmmakers within journalistic and visual, narrativological genres have taken note. Young adult novel Ghetto Cowboy (Neri, 2011), which centers on the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, inspired the Hollywood film Concrete Cowboys (Staub, 2020), demonstrating the black urban cowboy’s popular appeal. In my paper, I argue that the black urban cowboys also serve as a modern-day form of urban marronage, co-mingling Black Geographies and Animal Geographies. Utilizing Bledsoe’s definition of marronage as space which is created from the Black experience as a subversive act (2017), I will examine how both sub-fields tackle what it means to be excluded from the geographic cannon as “relevant geographic subjects” (McKittrick, 2006) in which legacies of transportation and human-animal relationships are remade within the modern context. I also place emphasis on the integral inter-species bond between human and horse within an urban context as particularly crucial given the socio-spatial constraints imposed upon communities of color otherwise lacking equal agency as well as state-sanctioned sovereignty.

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