In Free, White And 21, Howardena Pindell recounts bias incidents she has experienced as an African American woman in educational institutions, employment offices, and in various social settings.
As a student, Pindell was prevented from overstepping black/ white boundaries. For example, she was discouraged from being "accelerated" at the expense of a white student and her name was taken off a student body officer ballot because officials considered it inappropriate. Out of school, as a potential employee, she was turned away from jobs that were then offered to white candidates. As a member of a wedding party in Kennebunkport, Maine, Pindell experienced a different type of racism as guests selectively shook hands with everyone but her and later stared at her as she ate her food, thus turning basic human functions into spectacle.
As Pindell tells these stories she wraps her head in white gauze bandages, an image that serves as a metaphor for being "white-faced" and white, out in society. Pindell also portrays a white woman with blonde wig, a stocking over her head, and dark glasses who appears between story segments to reprimand black Howardena for being paranoid and ungrateful. "But then," says white Howardena, "you're not free, white and twenty one."