A little more than a year after an aesthetically pleasing, empowering, and moving film was released on a streaming platform – arresting us with the ancestral glory and depths of various continental Afrikan beliefs and cultures – owned by the
rat corporation Disney+; Beyoncé, and Jay-Z made their appearance in Tiffany’s flashy ABOUT LOVE campaign with Knowles-Carter wearing the famous Tiffany yellow stone. Black may be king, but that mighty green dollar is God.
Before looking at how starkly problematic the incestuous association of this power couple is with Tiffany, allow us to give you some historical background of this brand.
Charles “Lewting” Tiffany (1812-1902) AKA “The King of “Blood” Diamonds,” founded Tiffany & Co. in 1837 in New York City with “a discerning eye for design” (and “blood” diamonds). His father owned a cotton- manufacturing company, and Charles worked and ran that mill until he was 20. After borrowing money from his dad, he moved to the Big Apple and opened his first shop that sold jewelry amongst other wares. Where could have the cotton be made, and who could’ve produced it in the 1800s? You guessed it: enslaved Afrikans. We can safely say it’s probable that the $1000 borrowed by Charles was part of the revenue earned from the cotton trade. According to the Reparations Hub, “Tiffany & Co. was originally financed with profits from a Connecticut cotton mill. The mill operated from cotton picked by slaves.”
Cotton was king back then, representing half of all US exports, a major raw material for British commodities (in some years, up to 95 percent of raw materials imported into Liverpool docks was from US plantations), and the most significant source of public and private wealth in the British economy.
As Michael G Hanchard details in The Spectre of Race: How Discrimination Haunts Western Democracy:
“Profits from commodities produced by slave labor provided the capital for investment in new forms of technology (cotton gin) financial institutions and emerging Industries”Michael G. Hanchard in The Spectre of Race: How Discrimination Haunts Western Democracy (2018)
Moreover, the profits of cotton mills such as Charles’ father’s increased the capacity of the owners and their descendants to capitalize on other economic ventures of trade, production, and entrepreneurship, such as mining and jewelry.
And so it follows, in 1848, Tiffany & Co. began manufacturing jewels. So what else was happening in the nineteenth century? Oh yes, the invasion and colonization of the continent of Afrika. It’s there and more precisely in 1877 in a colonial mine in Kimberley, South Afrika, that the glaring Tiffany yellow diamond worn by Beyoncé was
discovered stolen. You cannot even find a £1 in the streets, yet these colonizers just found a mighty yellow stone of 287.42 carats (57.484 grams) now worth an astonishing $30 million (about £22.9 million) lying around in a mine. Yes, it must be that and not the endemic enslavement, and sickening enforced labor of Black South Afrikans sold to work in hellish mines for the benefit of Western coffers. The same West that made sure N-word couldn’t own the precious stones as Sir Charles Alfred Payton stated in The Diamond Diggings of South Africa: A Personal and Practical Account.
South Afrikan mines, their harsh conditions, and their thirst for cheaper labor also worried countries neighboring the Apartheid nation. Samora Machel (1933-1986), the first president of Mozambique, says in Machel of Mozambique: “The men are forced to go to South Afrika. They are sold to the South Afrikan mines. […] I lost many relatives in South Afrika. Some returned with tuberculosis, without limbs, mutilated, blind, completely useless, and without indemnity. Others died in South Afrika, including my eldest brother. When he died in the South Afrikan mines, my father received a note from the administration to say that he should go and collect £40 indemnity.” Interestingly, he precedes this by mentioning cotton and how it also ravaged continental Afrikan agriculture and farmers:
“Then there were the crops compulsorily imposed by the administration [of] the cotton system. The cultivation of cotton is of a kind that prevents any other activity. It’s a product that requires a lot of attention and consequently resulted in hunger in our region. Many people died of starvation because of cotton“Samora Machel in Machel of Mozambique
The colonial mine became the mecca of wealth seekers led by Cecil “Must Fall” Rhodes. Rhodes was one of the founders of the cartelized company, De Beers, which controlled the price of diamonds in London. Rhodes and the Rhandlords introduced the expedient idea of keeping Black workers in dehumanizing compounds. To maximize profit, Rhodes also sponsored a law that authorized colonial mine owners to strip Black workers naked and force them to swallow laxatives before they could go home, hoping to flush stolen diamonds out of the native’s stomach.
So now, let’s fast forward to 2021
Our darling, untouchable, glamourous, Black billionaire royal couple pose in a Tiffany campaign as the “epitome of the modern love story.” The same Tiffany who gorged upon the flesh and suffering of their ancestors to amass wealth – put that same yellow bloody diamond stolen from South Afrika, now fashioned into a cushion shape, on the neck of a Black woman. They made it. They closed the circle. They rose against all odds, elevated their lineage, and became… that which we despise and fight against.
The woman who capitalized on the Black Panther aesthetics for her 2016 Super Bowl performance and wrote a love letter to Afrika through her album The Gift and movie “Black Is King,” doesn’t seem conflicted with her image being associated and used by a brand that has its roots in slavery and colonialism. Beyoncé studied ancestral beliefs and ways of life yet how quickly did she forget about the ancestors when it was time to collect that check. She worked with a team of singers, dancers, designers from Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Afrika. South Afrika must have impressed her. The Afro-America flag is featured to close out the “Already” track scene in “Black is King” based on the Pan-Afrikan flag with its distinctive colors: red symbolizes the blood that unites all people of Black Afrikan ancestry, and that blood was shed for liberation. Black is for Black people and green for Afrika’s wealth. These colors have quickly been “utilized.” Using Black to signify a superficial allegiance to Black people to secure their loyalty and ensure we financially support Black celebrities. Green now stands for the almighty dollar and the stolen natural wealth of the Motherland. Red for the blood spewed to collect the Tiffany stone. Yellow for that blood diamond so ruthlessly cut to blind you with its shine from its horrific history rooted in racial capitalism.
It’s not just the jewel that’s F’d
Not only did The Carters feature in the ad, but Tiffany also incorporated Black NY artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s never-before-seen painting, Equals Pi, it recently acquired for, some sources also say, well into eight figures. Critics claim it goes against what the man represented and believed in as an anti-capitalist, whose work depicted challenging themes of identity and oppression, centering marginalizing figures, with works evoking the transatlantic slave trade and Afrikan history to contemporary race relations. The commercialization of this work is part of the larger commercialization of his image (his current auction record stands at $110.5 million).
Black and Afrikan pride can’t be paraded while playing colonizer. Black excellence, Black Girl Magic, and liberation are not about becoming economic oppressors or aspiring to become the first Black woman to wear a diamond stolen from Afrika and Afrikan people whose culture they used to make a profit (even if the intention was to share its beauty with the world). The inconspicuous layers of hypocrisy and insults are why the ancestors refuse to talk to us.
As Ahmed wrote recently for Make it Plain, “social media is flooded with images of Black celebrities advertising wares such as Nike, Apple, Calvin Klein, Capital One, Mercedes-Benz, Coca-Cola, Louis Vuitton, Under Armour, etc.,” and now iconic Tiffany diamonds, “all on behalf of their corporate paymasters.” Ahmed goes on to write, that Black celebs act as attention merchants or “inverted Robin Hoods,” funneling money away from the Black masses, handing it over to the corporation, in exchange for big-dollar endorsement deals.
“The Black celebrity is like a product placement used by the manufacturer to get a target audience (Black masses) to depart with their money“Ahmed Olayinka Sule
Tiffany & Co. is in it for Green, not the Black, and abides by the White man commandment: compassion impedes profit. The Carter Campaign is an attempt to usher in a new [more profitable] era at Tiffany. The aim is to modernize its appeal to a younger [Blacker] crowd and get that millennial money—millennials who, along with Gen Z, are the biggest spending cohorts in fashion and luxury. Z is the gen most “willing to pay a little more to get products made by companies that share [their] values,” according to McKinsey’s & Company.
Tiffany, what should you do?
The irony is that while Tiffany became pioneers of diamond traceability in 2019, they’ve not acknowledged the Black lives lost to colonial violence that were expended in those colonial mines to dig up that yellow bloody diamond. Instead, vice President Andy Hart claimed in an interview that they are a company with a “long history of social and environmental responsibility” who gives a fuck about the “well-being of people and the planet.”
For all its capitalistic concerns about gaining the consumer’s trust, protecting human rights saving lives today, and its benevolent vision for “sound governance,” promoting “responsible labor practices” and “healthy work environments” for tomorrow, Tiffany must reckon with its imperial past. Until then it will profit under historical amnesia and a culture of liberal denial.
As a bare minimum, update the Legacy of Charles Lewis Tiffany page with truth (“he cemented his reputation as a purveyor of [
looted] luxury goods when he unveiled the Tiffany Diamond”), do a press intimate release detailing where and whom the bloody diamond came from, and then return it to Afrika with the rest of the bloody loot.
Let’s be real though, The Carters don’t really give a fuck about all this, neither does Tiffany & Co. No one can tell them nothing; they’ll do whatever the fuck they want to do. They’ll do less than the bare minimum if they can, which is pledge $2M to HBCUs’ scholarship and internship programs. That’s 50 cents to Tiffany Co., “a few stones out the mall.”
These are crumbles we fight over and praise the super-rich for. Unfortunately, no amount of symbolic tax write-off, aka charity, will wash off the blood that covers the yellow bloody stone. The only way to correct this evil is to return the jewel to South Afrika, pay miners and their families reparations, destroy the current system and imagine a new one. There is no pride in flaunting anything that meant death to our foremothers and forefathers.
Wearing a jewel borne out of the sweat, blood, exploitation of our ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic isn’t the Black power move you think it is.
Co-written by a Hive