Free or Free-ish

At best, I’m free-ish. I’m certainly not free.

Yes, I can walk into most establishments in America (there are still many in which Black people know that they aren’t welcome, including many country clubs that won’t allow a Black person to join). However, even in those that I can enter, I’m often treated with suspicion or disdain. I have been followed in stores, asked to pay up-front for meals, told the price of something without asking, ignored, and given poor customer service — all while concurrently observing White patrons being treated exceptionally. Most of “my” products in major drugstores will be locked behind cases, causing Black people to have to shamefully ask for help – just to get some hair gel (as if Black people are the only ones who steal). If I want to go to a major grocery store, department store, or high-end chain, I must leave “Black neighborhoods”, go to the White part of town where I am guaranteed get looks that question the validity of my presence.

Yes, I have the freedom to apply for any job. But, should I have an ethnic-sounding name, studies have shown that I have a 50% lower chance of getting a call-back than a White counterpart with the exact same resume. Should I get the job my wages will most likely be lower than a White person’s. Even black workers with an advanced degree experience a significant wage gap compared with their white counterparts. And after controlling for age, gender, education, and region, black workers are paid 16.2 percent less than White workers. On top of this, I will be accused directly or indirectly of being a quota hire; receive fewer promotional opportunities, even from other Blacks (as Blacks select their own race for promotion less frequently than any other race). It is suspected that this comes from the fear of showing favoritism or being “too Black.”

Yes, I have the freedom to buy a house. But Blacks are steered to less desirable neighborhoods, with poorer performing school districts, and lesser opportunities for significant appreciation in home equity. When they apply for mortgages they are more likely to be denied and, when approved are offered higher interest rates — even when leveled for income and credit scores. And in “Blacker” neighborhoods the water, police and other public services are more likely to be slower and substandard.

Yes, I have the freedom to walk or drive most streets; but not free of scrutiny. Black people have been questioned, reported and even killed for being in their own neighborhoods, canvasing for politicians, doing work for their utility companies. I post pictures of my sons on my neighborhood website so that everyone would know that my Black sons belonged there. I have many friends who won’t wear their hoods up on their sweatshirts when they exercise or ensure that they go the same routes everyday so that people are accustomed to seeing them.

Yes, technically the constitution promises liberty and justice for all; but African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites and receive substantially longer sentences for the same crimes. African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost six times that of whites. Blacks are slower to be paroled and once released faced higher hurdles for employment and reintroduction into broader society.

African American in Prison

These inequities are coupled with the mental chains that all Black people have (but most won’t admit to). We give greater value to products made by White-owned companies, aspire to White educational values (for example, that PWIs are better than HBCUs), and seek to validate our value or success to white people through conspicuous consumption. Many of us are still trying to be seen, accepted by the majority culture; and when we do achieve a certain level of the American Dream, too many of us consider ourselves better than or different from our fellow Blacks.

Today is Juneteenth, the day we commemorate the last slaves being emancipated. It is symbolic of where we have been, but is also a strong reminder of how far we need to go. We ain’t free. At best, we, Black folks, are free-ISH.

One Response

  1. I wonder if Kenya Barris, the creator of the TV show, Black-ish realizes that Free-ish wouldn’t be in the lexicon if that show and it’s spinoff hadn’t gained such popularity. I had heard the term black-ish prior but never used as widespread as it currently is. That being said, I wholeheartedly agree that black people, descended from enslaved people in America are only Free-ish, but true emancipation was never something to be given to us, it was something we needed to acquire for ourselves.

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About Randi B.

Randi is a diversity and inclusion strategist, speaker, trainer and writer, focusing on making connections and cultivating empathy in this diverse world one trip, speech, article, book and conversation at a time.

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