Apparently, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons is the diamond industry’s new best friend. Simmons just returned from a nine-day fact-finding mission to South Africa and Botswana after an invitation from the industry’s Diamond Information Center. The Diamond Information Center handles public relations in the United States for the Diamond Trading Company, the marketing division of De Beers. Following this industry-paid ‘fact-finding mission’, (the scare quotations are very appropriate), Simmons ‘vocally defended the diamond trade.’ When the organization or industry under scrutiny funds a ‘fact finding mission’ I cannot help but be reasonably skeptical. Certainly they would not fund a trip for a man who may damage their public image, right?
In 2003, Simmons himself opened Simmons Jewelry Company, which is supplied by De Beers. According to close friend (and impromptu PR agent?), Benjamin Chavis, a former executive director of the N.A.A.C.P. and a ‘close associate of Mr. Simmons, who traveled to Africa’ said that Simmons ‘has been meaning to visit Africa for some time, and received an invitation from the Diamond Information Center more than a year ago.’ Additionally, Chavis reminds us that the trip ‘had been a long-planned project unrelated to the movie.’ The movie in question is ‘Blood Diamonds‘ which chronicles the Sierra Leone diamond trade in 1990s. Riddled with its own discursive and representational problems (or at least from the reviews I have read), the film still sent enough of a shock to the diamond industry, and rightfully so. The World Diamond Council (the industry’s trade group) initiated a public relations campaign to ‘counteract any negative publicity’ prior to and continuing throughout the opening of Blood Diamonds in early December. Maybe Simmons was part of this PR package?
In a Dec. 11 interview with The Daily News, Edward Zwick, the director of ‘Blood Diamonds’ accused Simmons ‘of being a public relations puppet for the diamond industry.’ Simmons and Chavis responded in an open letter that they were concerned about ‘the current wave of misinformation about diamonds’ and that they had observed concrete examples of how the diamond industry ‘contributes to the overall self-empowerment of African people and communities.’ Simmons and Chavis mention that both Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki are concerned about this wave of misinformation as well. Mbeki is a leftist demagogue who refused to acknowledge the HIV/AIDS pandemic in S. Africa until this year, and Mandela’s concern with the film scarring folks away from buying diamonds and destabilizing (isn’t it already destabilized?) industry versus a concern with human life is quite disheartening. Simmons and Chavis harp on this rhetoric and resisting paternalistic discourses that render all of Africa ‘underdeveloped, self-destructive, savage Africa,’ but does not see anything problematic about using his position of power to affirm a discourse where Africans are being ’empowered’ by the Diamond industry. Simmons later reports to allhiphop.com that Warner Brother’s Pictures is arrogant, ‘selfish, self-centered, greedy and hurtful to the indigenous people of Africa.’
Simmons and Chavis have a monopoly on the ‘truth’ about blood diamonds obviously because they have ‘observed concrete examples’ of the diamond industry. Of course these observations were certainly colored by an industry funded trip…but we don’t need to be bothered by the trite details of money trails, power plays, strategic PR campaigns, and the ever opportunistic tokenism, right? Zwick makes a good point in saying that Simmons and Chavis’ observations are not based on ‘truth finding’ missions in places like Angola and Sierra Leone where no amount of historical repackaging, and discursive tricks could have obscured the reality of blood diamonds.
“I find it embarrassing for Russell Simmons. That number comes from diamonds that are mined in countries that are ‘war-declared.’ Conflict diamonds are also mined in countries where there is not a ‘declared war.’ If you want to know about conflict diamonds, you don’t go to Botswana and South Africa. You go to Sierra Leone and Angola. Russell Simmons is being embarrassed.”
“To suggest I’m a sellout is wrong. I’m not here to defend the past of these companies. I’m here to talk about the current reality. Diamonds pay for education and medical treatment in Africa.” read more
And on that note…Diamond Empowerment Fund was founded as a nonprofit international organization ‘to raise money for the development and empowerment of people and communities in Africa where diamonds are a natural resource…Out of this, The Simmons Jewelry Company launched the Green Initiative. The purpose of the Green Initiative is to raise funds for the D.E.F. Twenty-five percent of the net proceeds from the sale of Simmons Jewelry Company Green Initiative items go directly to the D.E.F.’
Yay! Happy holiday folks…