Movie Poster CONCRETE COWBOY Netflix

CONCRETE COWBOY (Google for details)

©2021 by Alice Walker

We had no word for the strange animal we got from the white man-the horse. So we called it sunka waken, “holy dog.” For bringing us the horse we could almost forgive you for bringing us whiskey.  Horses make a landscape look more beautiful.

~ Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions


I had no idea when yet another visiting niece (I have many!) suggested we watch CONCRETE COWBOY that it would affect me so deeply. Here it is: the huge gap that opens between fathers and sons when fathers see no way out of poverty, racism, fatherlessness (often) and a deep anger at the injustices endemic to a segregated and racist environment. I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the people – or of the horses!

When I published my book of poems HORSES MAKE A LANDSCAPE LOOK MORE BEAUTIFUL I was thinking of Black Elk, whom I adore for his deep understanding of the connectedness of Life. For instance, his saying (one of my favorites) that “ if I am to die today let me do so with some “poi” (a favorite traditional dish) in my mouth.” This is wisdom. I substitute corn, ham, chitlings, melon, etc. depending on the day) and carry this always in my medicine bundle for my moment of transition.

This film demonstrates why the original (black) cowboys were so good at their job of tending the white settlers’ cows. (They were good houseboys too, I’m sure). It is because they, like the Indians/Native Americans, loved the horses, and recognized them as fellow/sister enslaved beings.

My own connection to horse love occurred when I was a child, no more than six or seven. My horse, Nan, was provoked by one of my brothers and threw me against a tree. After that, we were separated. Someone has written a beautiful line about “the losses that mature us.” This was one. First this loss, then that of a cat, Phoebe. This forced separation from the animal world even to “protect” us!

How do we bear it?

Much emotion and memory was evoked by CONCRETE COWBOY, a beautiful film, a work created obviously by free people. How do we know this? For one thing we see us, black people, with a lot of our craziness showing, not as entertainment or shock therapy but simply as reality. Our attachment to “nigger” for instance, which is used often in black culture as a reminder of the debasement our enslavers intended. But also what they envied: Our innate intelligence, will, adaptability, impersonal kindness. Moral and physical strength. Ability to demonstrate compassion, often for people who did nothing to deserve it. Enslaving black people must often have felt like capturing the part of themselves that had, over centuries of European oppression and serfdom in the Old Country, somehow eroded away. Here it was! In these “savages,” who could and did fall in love with horses that grew to love them back! And might have loved white people too (and did sometimes) if there was left in those who enslaved them enough compassion to decline the role of master.

Like this film, I affirm the tendency of black people to make community out of odds and ends of folks passing through. We must continue to do this. It is a great and beautiful strength. Unanticipated gifts come from “claiming” of “outside” children, animals, and relatives. For instance, I have adopted one of a sister poet’s wonderful sons who sends me inspiration by way of his own thoughtfulness. And so I close with a quote he sent today.

“All those who prefer peace to power, and happiness to glory should thank the colonized people for their civilizing mission. By liberating themselves, they made Europeans more modest, less racist, and more human. Let us hope that the process continues and that the Americans are obliged to follow the same course. When one’s own cause is unjust, defeat can be liberating.” – Jean Bricmont

Let the church, that we can and must continue to liberate, say “Amen.”