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Russell Simmons: Blood diamonds and responsibility

November 17th, 2006 Posted in Business, Charity, Film/Television, General, Music, Politics, Travel

Russell SimmonsThe past year has been a roller-coaster ride for the African diamonds industry. Ever since word got out that Warner Bros was putting major star power behind its “Blood Diamonds” movie Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly) the topic has developed into something similar to a circus. It’s interesting to see what different groups of people have had to say about the issue which continues to overflow into seemingly unrelated industries.

The Daily News just published further information about hip-hop guru/mogul/phenomenon Russel Simmons’ pending DeBeers-funded fact-finding mission to Africa. His hope is to “teach Africans how to cut and polish diamonds on the continent, instead of taking the diamonds out….The diamond industry should be the leader of African empowerment”. As a business person myself, I have always been inspired by Mr. Simmons’ business sense and ability to stay grounded despite the entertainment industry he’s so deeply immersed in. But as I told the reporter from the Daily News yesterday, though I support Russell’s intent, I find it hard to believe he could be too successfull on a trip chaperoned by DeBeers. I have been wrong before though. When I read a preliminary script for the “Blood Diamonds” movies and joined a few others (you know who you are) to voice our concerns to Time Warner back in March, I was quite skeptical that a “hollywood” movie which is so rooted in one of the most horrific periods in African history could do the topic justice. Call me pessimistic, but I have Tears of the Sun as a reference. Since then I’ve worked with many individuals who have toiled tirelessly to double check and make sure Warner Bros. gets it right. But even I could not imagine the war that was soon to ensue. With Africa caught in the middle, the past 2-3 months has been a tug of war between those of us who support the movie and the big bad diamond dealers. After attending a private screening of the movie back in October and speaking to the director Ed Zwick, my concerns are gone and I am all for supporting the movie and lending my voice and hand in it’s success. Though I have a couple of issues with the movie, I think it does the topic justice and can be a good tool to mobilize the public.

Though, I continue to work hard to make sure that the controversy doesn’t overshadow the actual changes that continues to be made behind the scenes, I’m sometimes disheartened by the casualties of it all. For me a main casualty is the African societies, but another one might also be the global hip-hop community. As Clyde points out “the term bling generally refers to both flashy and high quality products separate from one’s class status, including jewelry bought for special occasions by folks that may have saved all year for their special gift for a loved one”. It’s hard to tell those who save their money to get expensive jewelryBling is Dead. Their lives are rooted in the bling culture which I and my partners are trying so desperately to derail. I’m of the belief that though hip-hop has spawned this bling culture, it has turned into something we don’t control but all the ills of it is still credited to us. Bling culture to me epitomizes ultimate consumerism without responsibility. Bling culture, at this point, is about ballin out of control”. It’s more that keeping up with the Joneses. It’s attaining the recognition without the work. When Cash Money Millionaires said “Bling! Bling!” it was a call to arms to many to indulge in excess without responsibility or purpose. What many who buy into the bling culture don’t realize is that the big cars and big jewels, they focus on is a figment of their imagination. The people they are trying to imitate are never impressed because they know the imbalance will always exist. So what if you can shop at Tiffany’s too, the real blingers send their assistants do that. The major missing link is that most people don’t realize that the money Puffy (sorry Diddy) throws around at parties is his company’s money, not his own. But it’s a well guarded secret, especially to those who are so far removed from the actual decision makers that they cannot grasp the concept of making sure you spend someone else’s money. So the bling culture continues with those who don’t have posing like they do. And us Africans are caught in the middle. Good luck Russell, I hope you find what you’re looking for.

  • http://None:JustaconcernedAfricanstudent cariline gathagu

    I have great respect for the hip-hop mogul and his business capabilities. I also respect his ingenuity at creating billion-dollar ideas where other people had not seen much potential.
    This time however, i am a little skeptical about this whole “fact-finding” mission.Whose interests are at hand here; the jewelers or the African people? Or is this yet another of Russell’s ingenious ways of enhancing his already gigantic business empire?
    I can not answer the questions with much confidence, for it would rather be a careless comment that is un-backed by substantiated proof. Therefore the best thing would be for us to wait and see what happens.
    Russell’s own words may be seen as rather comforting. “I’m making a lot of money by selling diamonds. I want to give my money back to the people in Africa.” Another is “Americans will know that, when they buy a diamond, it doesn’t make you an a** with money, it can make you a person who’s empowering Africans.”
    Well, for whatever reason the fact-finding mission has been created, I hope it brings help to those whose name it’s associated with. I hope that it fulfills the mission for what it was created for. I hope that it will bring a little empowerment to so many Africans; impoverished by ruthless governments that mine diamonds in order to furnish terrorist activities and civil wars. I hope that a few dollars (Or Shillings, or Francs, or Nairas) will not be worth further exploitation of the African people. I really do hope that this works out well for everyone. Really.

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