Saul Williams shares email from JAY-Z, offers thoughts on “economic freedom”

After Williams disputed the rapper’s assessment of the importance of black wealth, JAY-Z responded in a private letter.

December 02, 2019
Saul Williams shares email from JAY-Z, offers thoughts on “economic freedom” (L) JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images (R) Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images  

On Sunday, artist and poet Saul Williams shared an email he received from JAY-Z on the subject of "economic freedom," as Complex points out.

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The email was in response to a clip from a television interview Williams shared in which he reflects on money's outsized role in the narrative of black liberation: "Somebody made the mistake of equating money with liberation," Williams says, "You hear an artist like JAY-Z saying on The Black Album, 'Well, I couldn't help poor people if I was poor.' Correction: the majority of our leaders and people who have helped us at the time have not been able to help us because they have money, they helped us because they had vision."

In his email, JAY-Z responds to Williams's interview, writing that "Our fight for economic freedom is new, it's not the same war as Harriet Tubman was fighting." Williams disputes this in his Instagram post sharing JAY-Z's email: "There have been wealthy black Americans in every generation since the 1600's, and in Africa since forever... Yet psychological freedom from hard taught capitalism is hard to earn."

"Even as we push against the systemic structures in criminal justice, housing, etc," Williams continues, "we know that it is not simply a question of money being used against us, rather it is the ideology that negates our worth as human beings that seems to justify the constant exploitation of our worth and work."

Read JAY-Z's email and Williams's response below:

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I wouldn't characterize our fight for economic freedom as "new". There have been wealthy black Americans in every generation since the 1600's, and in Africa since forever. During segregation accumulated black wealth and black-owned business were at a peak. Black newspapers, magazines, schools, record labels... Yet psychological freedom from hard taught capitalism is hard to earn. African billionaires, for example, have brought little relief to the continent of Africa. The seduction of power and the systemic constraints of white supremacy will take more than money to burn. The root of the market economy is still almost entirely based on the sourcing of rare minerals where the exploitation of African miners and land is the analogue reality of the our modern-age technological advances. Thus, we push for essentially socialist measures which provide healthcare and education to all. Money can be disappeared, but the lessons you learn along the way are yours to keep. Whether we learn from the streets, schools, in prisons, or by playing the game, it is that hard-earned knowledge that allows us to understand how to spend what we earn in ways that can truly make a difference. Even as we push against the systemic structures in criminal justice, housing, etc. we know that it is not simply a question of money being used against us rather it is the ideology that negates our worth as human beings that seems to justify the constant exploitation of our worth and work. Thus the attack is largely against belief systems, philosophies empowered by money and a corrupted rule of law. Guggenheims, Rockefellers, Fords, Nobels, and the great philanthropists and supporters of the arts are all in recompense of the oil, the factory work, the mining, the weaponry, the staple crops, the plantations... that profit off the design of the system, after which the charitable hand is the only one left to give. I challenge the messaging through music when I feel it supports the system primarily because I see art and music as tools or weaponry that can be used to destroy it. The truth bangs harder. We learn that the more we tell it.

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Saul Williams shares email from JAY-Z, offers thoughts on “economic freedom”