What is ultimately at stake in the Tiffany diamond row? It isn’t Beyoncé’s ethics | Arwa Mahdawi

The backlash to the singer’s new advertising campaign has revealed a longstanding truth – that the whole diamond industry is hugely suspect

It doesn’t matter how rich, grownup or successful you might be, sometimes your mum still feels the need to come to your rescue. Tina Knowles-Lawson, AKA Beyoncé’s mum, has just had a very sharp word on social media with critics of her daughters’ new advertising campaign. Beyoncé, you see, has been getting some flak for wearing a 128-carat yellow diamond in a new campaign for Tiffany & Co. She is only the fourth person in the world to have worn this fancy diamond apparently, and she is the first black woman to wear it. Which is all very lovely, except the diamond has a dodgy colonial history and people have been accusing Beyoncé of helping to sanitise a “blood diamond”.

“How many of you socially conscious activist [sic] own diamonds?” Knowles-Lawson said in response to the controversy. “I thought so! Well, guess what did you go to try to check to see where the diamond came from? Probably not.”

Beyoncé’s mum makes a good point there, but I’m not sure she is really doing her daughter any favours with it. Knowles-Lawson is right that the diamond industry as a whole is hugely suspect. Diamonds are a capitalist’s best friend: they have a sordid history of market manipulation, unethical practices, false scarcity and canny advertising. But the rocks have become so romanticised, so embedded in cultural notions of romance, that a lot of people – even people who view themselves as ethical consumers – just ignore all that. That doesn’t mean Beyoncé doesn’t deserve criticism for her advertising campaign, however. There is a difference between passively engaging in the worst aspects of capitalism and actively promoting them.

Ultimately, however, the real issue here is not really Beyoncé’s personal ethics. It is the calculated way in which it seems that brands such as Tiffany’s use issues such as racial justice and women’s rights to try to burnish their reputations. The real issue is the way in which corporations want us to view progress as consisting of a more diverse 1% rather than a more equal society. Sorry, but as the backlash to Beyoncé’s campaign demonstrates, a lot of us aren’t buying it.


Arwa Mahdawi

The GuardianTramp

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