Well it's hard starting out on your own, getting clients, but in the long run, you'll make more money than working at a firm if you are a hustler. A common thing for folks to do in the criminal/family law arena is to work for the Prosecutor/Public Defender for 3 years then go solo. Unless you are a big time rain maker at huge huge huge firm, you'll never bring home 500-1M a year. You can do that as a personal injury attorney with the right case(s). In solo practice, you can have one case that brings you a 70K fee....at a firm, that could be your yearly salary. But you are right, the comfort of a steady check is what folks like. In solo practice one month you can make 15K, the next month 1,500.
I see alot of subtle racism. I do think that it's easier for white attorneys, they are perceived as being more qualified. Most black attorneys I see work their tails off and are really tight. There aren't a lot of black attorneys, fewer black partners so its not uncommon to be the only minority at the firm.