Does race matter in freelancing? I wasn’t sure myself when I first thought about starting this site, but then I started listening.
I heard friends and family saying “I didn’t know we did work like that” when I told them I was going out on my own. I saw statistics that said Black (and honestly, all non-White people) were less likely to go out and work outside of employment, even as the benefits of the “Steady job” were falling apart. That was enough for me to think “maybe” and start to think out some other reasons…
- Economic Vulnerability: Black people around the world are particularly vulnerable to economic shifts. The rise of the freelance worker (or rather, the fall of the traditional employment relationship) signals a massive shift in the way money is earned, and it’s one area we can ill-afford to be left behind on. While we’re getting involved in the “gig economy”, it’s too often in the highest-risk, highest-exploitation, and lowest return gigs out there.
- Specific Career Challenges: Our career paths face very specific challenges–from careers with lower ROI because of the race wage gap, to more friction when changing jobs, to racialized work environments — freelancing is especially well-suited to address some of these issues.
- Relationship with Employment: Black people are sold a unique narrative around the salvation and benefits in having a “good job”. This narrative persists even as the benefits of these jobs continue to disintegrate. (See: Thoughts on Black Labor)
- Awareness: There are a lot of freelance stories being told out there. Unfortunately, very few are about Black freelancers and more people need to understand that this is a viable career tool for us. You’ll easily run across an article or two that says something to the effect of “everybody knows SOMEBODY who freelances.” I didn’t until I started myself. Many of my friends didn’t (before me). I’ve also been told flat out by people that they never knew freelancing was for people like us specifically because of the faces they saw being interviewed and featured.
- Powerful Path to Entrepreneurship: Freelance work exposes you not only to the real needs of businesses, but also the inner workings and trends within industries. It also naturally increases your professional network. Aspiring Internet entrepreneurs in particular should consider it as a simple form of “starter” entrepreneurship. (Learn more about the difference between different types of digital entrepreneurship here.)
- Specific Opportunities: Black businesses exist around the world and deserve all the benefits that a robust freelance workforce offers. Unfortunately, their needs go almost completely ignored by much of the freelance world (in the West at least). There is opportunity for those willing to address Black business and consumer culture with respect, competence, dedication, and innovation. (Like content marketing in Black business spaces.)
- Support for Individual Freelancers: Since this work model is less common in many of our communities, reactions to our choices and challenges from friends, family, and social circles can easily be less than positive.
- Specific Challenges: Black freelancers, since most of us are entering freelancing from the already racialized spaces of work and education, face specific challenges around building and leveraging our networks, access to certain industries, and perception of our expertise.