Why We Must Stop Referring to Non-Enslaved Black People as “Free”

Bridgette L. Hylton
Published in
5 min readMar 11, 2022


So you’ve stopped referring to enslaved people as slaves, what’s next?

You’ve recognized that assigning a status related identity to enslaved persons legitimizes the existence of the system of enslavement and diminishes reflection around the inhumanity that such a system embodies, now what?

It’s time we reflect on the idea that the antithesis to being an enslaved Black person is being a “free Black person.” That’s not true. The antithesis of being an enslaved Black person is having no connection to the system of enslavement whatsoever — that is, being a human who happens to be Black.

Photo by Social History Archive on Unsplash

Many of us have no personal qualms with the word free or the word freedom themselves. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that they are perhaps two of the most beautiful words in the English language in a wide variety of contexts. In the United States, the word itself pretty exclusively has positive associations whether with the perpetuation of democracy, or the ending of wars, and that is only amplified by what the word means for Black Americans and for other Black societies impacted by the systems of enslavement.

However, from another perspective, the idea that the only conditions that we can attribute to Black identity