Has Russell Simmons become a paid mouthpiece for the diamond industry?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

The movie Blood Diamond has the diamond industry so freaked out that they’ve been waging a massive PR campaign to refute the movie’s revelations about conflict diamonds. From LA Weekly:

The timing of the film’s release, moved up from December 15 to December 8, is a nightmare for the diamond industry since the Christmas season accounts for up to 50 percent of a fine jeweler’s sales and 75 percent of the profit. And then Valentine’s Day will coincide with Blood Diamond’s Oscar campaign. I’ve heard estimates that the World Diamond Council has earmarked a $15-plus-million spin campaign to deep-six Blood Diamond’s impact…

Apparently, part of this spin campaign has been to recruit Russell Simmons, of all people, to send out the message that the diamond industry isn’t really that exploitative. The Diamond Information Center, which is basically De Beers’ marketing and PR arm, sent Simmons and his entourage on an all-expenses paid trip to Africa. From The New York Times:

Representatives from the Diamond Information Center declined to say how much the trip cost, although Mr. Chavis said about 14 people were in the group each day, including local security and support staff as well as the 9 people who had traveled from the United States.

Davey D wrote an excellent piece about Simmons’ new role as the diamond industry puppet and pointed out the fact that countries selected for this “fact-finding mission” were very specific:

Please note that the horrific bloodshed and genocide of the early 1990s that the movie focuses on took place in countries like Sierra Leone and Angola. In my opinion those conflict zones should’ve been included in any sort of fact-finding mission. By only going to Botswana and South Africa, and by defending the diamond trade in those countries, Simmons by default wound up defending the De Beers Company, which held a worldwide monopoly for decades and brutally ruled the diamond business in those two countries for more than a century.

I first heard about Simmons’ new gig as diamond champion from this post from Bol at XXL. He does a great job of breaking down the hypocrisy behind Simmons’ so-called “Diamond Empowerment Fund,” which is supposed to educate Africans on how to better benefit from the diamond trade:

In the New York Times the other day, it was revealed that Africans are getting raped big time on the sale of these diamonds. They only get paid $15 for a diamond that would cost us (you) $5,000.

Will the Africans in Rush’s Diamond Empowerment Fund make any more money from diamonds than they would otherwise? Pshaw! Rush’s response to a reporter who put forth this question:

“No, I’ll answer him because I’m a business man and this gentleman obviously is not.” Simmons then countered that it takes about 25 cents to make a t-shirt you can sell for a $100. “Kimora can sell it for $500 or $600,” he added.

Wow. So in other words, the people in Africa don’t deserve to benefit from their own natural resources on the same level as Rush because they aren’t as good business people.

I swear, I’ve seen some sad shit in my life, but this about trumps everything.

I think Dumi at BlackatMichigan.com pretty much sums it up:

For years, I saw Russell Simmons as I saw Bob Johnson, a damn good Black capitalist (not endorsing this just calling em like I see em). Now with his explicit support and retort to Blood Diamond, I see he’s graduated to a damn good (Black) capitalist pawn… I wonder is there a difference between the two?