Diamonds, I’m sorry to say, aren’t Beyoncé’s best friend — even if the Grammy Award-winning artist and her new corporate partner, Tiffany and Co, would like to make it so.
(In late August) Tiffany released a new campaign featuring Beyoncé, husband Jay-Z — and the famed 128.54 carat yellow Tiffany diamond, discovered in South Africa in 1877 at the Kimberley Mine by Charles Lewis Tiffany. His iconic company gleefully lauded the fact that Beyoncé is only the fourth woman — and first black woman — to wear the glamorous necklace; her predecessors include Audrey Hepburn, who wore the stone in publicity photos for her 1961 movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Tiffany may be trying to rebrand, but it has badly misjudged the ethos of the moment. Its campaign does not celebrate black liberation — it elevates a painful symbol of colonialism. It presents an ostentatious display of wealth as a sign of progress in an age when Black Americans possess just four percent of the United States’ total household wealth.
If black success is defined by being paid to wear white people’s large colonial diamonds, then we are truly still in the sunken place.
As social media users were quick to point out, there is an ugly story — a tale of white supremacy and colonialism — behind the beautiful stone around Beyoncé’s neck.
In South Africa in the 1870s, when the Tiffany diamond was found, British forces launched battles of conquest and harsh discriminatory practices against African tribes and labourers. South Africa’s conflict-ridden mining industry paved the way for apartheid.
It’s time we expand the definition of blood diamonds and conflict minerals. For years, blood diamonds and conflict minerals from Africa were defined narrowly, as resources used by dangerous militias and warlords to finance their operations.
But thousands of African lives were lost and communities destroyed in the colonial quest to control the continent’s resources. And today, South Africa’s white minority continues to hold most of the country’s power and wealth.
So, yes, it doesn’t go too far to say: Beyoncé is wearing a blood diamond.
And she, too, bears responsibility for this tone-deaf misstep. Beyoncé and Jay-Z are entertainers and capitalists, not activists. But as stars who wield immense cultural power and enjoy a huge public platform, what they do matters.
Beyoncé’s husband has been willing to partner with organisations that have harmed Black people.
Jay-Z controversially signed a deal with the NFL, which effectively blackballed Colin Kaepernick for protesting racism, and just recently admitted its practice of “race norming,” deeming that black players had less cognitive brain function than white or other non-Black athletes for purposes of determining the damages they receive in the concussion litigation.
For those of us with African heritage and familiar with the history of colonialism on the continent, what makes Beyoncé’s decision to wear a symbol of white plunder so jarring is that just last year, in the Black Is King visual album, she was proclaiming her love for the continent — its people, aesthetic and music. Then again, she was making that project for us.
The Tiffany ad seems clearly aimed at impressing wealthy, whiter consumers.
Tiffany pledged that as part of its campaign it will give US$2 million to historically black colleges and universities. Beyoncé, for her part, has been outspoken about her love for HBCUs and dedicated her live performance at Coachella, the first Black woman to ever headline, to the culture and sound of HBCU band music and Greek life.
But still, the Tiffany pledge is an awfully small drop in the bucket compared with the needs of under-resourced schools and the profit margins of a megacorporation like Tiffany’s parent company, LVMH, worth more than US$300 billion.
And big corporations find it easier to donate to “safe” causes for black people such as education, rather than controversial but crucial issues like police and criminal justice reform.
And therein lies the fundamental lesson of the era of racial justice capitalism.
Black liberation cannot come from the same institutions that engorged themselves for decades on exploited black labour. Charity will not save us. Only a fundamental reimagining of our society and sincere efforts at reparations will do that.
Companies cannot so easily #BlackGirlMagic their way into sudden social relevancy and supposed corporate responsibility.
“I got diamonds on my neck / got diamonds on my records,” Beyoncé sings in her song “Kitty Kat.” Good for her. But the “About Love” campaign makes another line from that song come to mind, “I’m not feelin’ it.”The bad news for the singer and Tiffany: I’m probably not the only one. – Washington Post