Diamonds are A Girl’s Best Friend: Naomi Campbell’s Blissful, Beautiful Ignorance

Naomi Campbell is a world-famous supermodel with money, power, access, and influence.  Over the span of her career she has clearly lived a life of privilege based on the commodification of her physical beauty and her ability to market that as an asset.   Ms. Campbell has garnered and actually leveraged a reputation as a world-class diva or bitch, depending on your point of view—largely steeming from her tendency to lose her cool and launch objects at “the help”.   The most recent spate of  controversy to hit the glamazon involves her alleged receipt of blood diamonds from ex-Liberian leader Charles Taylor, who is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in Sierra Leone’s civil war.  Campbell was summoned by the  war crimes tribunal to give evidence on the alleged exchange.   Despite her initial refusal to attend, Campbell was subsequently subpoenaed and gave 90 minutes of testimony that bordered between reluctant and blithely stupid.

As a Campbell fan—albeit now wavering one—I was very troubled by the portions of her testimony I saw online and read in the press.  Her appearance at the trial of  the alleged war lord was certainly an odd pairing in the world of pop-culture and international politics.  Yet, to come to such an event on the world stage with such a  callous  and indifferent demeanor was simply irresponsible.   After arriving at the proceeds fashionably late but fashionable in a crème brulee ensemble and perfectly coiffed main, Ms. Campbell stated “I didn’t really want to be here.  I was made to be here. Obviously I just want to get this over with and get on with my life. This is a major inconvenience for me.”

Some are reporting  that there were obvious gasps from the public gallery in response to this statement, no doubt a reflection of her seeming lack of concern for the larger context of the day’s events.  If you watch the video, she generally seemed annoyed and put off by the entire proceedings, and spoke in a tone that suggested that given her beauty, fame, fortune, and status she was really “above” the entire situation.  I suppose strolling down catwalks and jet setting at white parties with Diddy is more appealing that testifying before the Hague, but Campbell should have shown some more dignity and class, as a citizen of the world but also as a person of African decent.  Suffice it to say,  I am quite sure the victims and surviving families of the bloodshed and other indignities of war were at times inconvenienced, as well.

Campbell was born in the UK and had a rather posh upbringing.  Discovered at 15, her quick rise and phenomenal success in the fashion world put her in a social strata that perhaps shielded her from the realities of those struggling with war, famine, and poverty—though she has done work with Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund and other charities.

Throughout her career she has been known to behave like a petulant child, but Ms. Campbell showed a real lack of respect for the people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and those concerned with their plight, with this most recent episode.   Whereas I once regarded her as an icon of Black beauty in an industry that has historically rewarded the more western beauty aesthetic, I now wonder if Ms. Campbell is simply all style and no substance.   During one baffling exchange in her  testimony she stated that she had never heard of Charles Taylor before, never heard of the Country Liberia before, and had never heard the term ‘blood diamonds’.  I mean even Kanye West had a song about Blood Diamond, perhaps he might fill her in on what she has clearly missed; I mean they do move in the same circles.

Now granted my knowledge of world events is grounded in what I can learn reading the Washington Post, listening to PRIs The World, and the second hour of Diane Rehm Friday newsround up, but honestly I pray Campbell is feigning ignorance on these series of  general world news factoids.  While Campbell may have very well not known what the “dirty little stones” being offered to her were, I truly doubt this is the case. I think Ms. Campbell was fully aware of what she was receiving, despite the best impression of an empty-headed ignoramus she gave during her testimony.  I argue pleading ignorance perhaps allows her to keep the attention on her physical person, her bread and butter and keep it off those contents of character, like intelligence, morality, courage in the face of your greatest fears, honesty, and personal accountability.   Ironically these traits so readily describe Nelson Mandela, Campbell’s adopted grandfather and mentor in her philanthropic activities.  So accordingly, I accept that Campbell is not a Rhodes Scholar, and her role in society is not to make insightful world political commentary, but as the fashionista jet sets around the world, she could really benefit by learning more about it.

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