As a South African literature specialist, discussions of the diamond industry often make their way into my classes. DeBeers, the diamond company founded by Cecil Rhodes in South Africa in 1888 is known for an advertising campaign that it started in 1938: “It dreamed up the notion that a diamond ring should be an essential display of love and status, its gift a rite of passage. In the ensuing decades De Beers and its marketers penned slogans—memorably, ‘a diamond is forever’—and invented social rules, urging men to spend two months’ pay on a gift for their affianced. That benchmark not only permitted high margins, but suppressed the second-hand market—to the benefit of both the firm and its customers, who could be reassured their investment would hold its value.” Basically, DeBeers created a market for diamonds that hadn’t existed prior, and the company did so by inflating demand for a limited commodity. By the end of the 20th century, 80 percent of all brides received a diamond ring as a symbol of engagement.
Of course, these diamonds were mined by black South Africans who were effectively enslaved by the colonial policies of people like Rhodes and then under the auspices of apartheid. And so-called conflict diamonds, the products of the labor by enslaved adults and children, continue to make their way into the U.S. Even when the diamonds are certified “conflict free,” the gemstone industry remains steeped in its legacy of colonial exploitation of indigenous labor and its simultaneous commodification of women as consumer goods to be purchased with expensive rocks. And that’s what allows the consistent and increasingly sexist billboard propaganda of Spicer Greene Jewelers in Asheville to perpetuate the marketing myth and women must have diamonds, that men are required to buy them for us, that, most recently, “sometimes it’s ok to throw rocks at girls.”
In various parts of the world, women are still stoned to death for marital infractions, most often on presumption that they have committed adultery. The fear that women might transgress the mandate that is offered by the “diamonds are forever” slogan (even if that transgression occurs because the woman is raped) incurs a sentence where men throw rocks at women and girls until they are dead.
Not in the US, you say. We don’t stone women to death, here. Well, men kill women all the time, but not generally with actual stones. In a 2016 report by the Associated Press, FBI and state cime data showed that 6,875 people were fatally shot by romantic partners during the period from 2006 to 2014, and of those, 80 percent were women: “On average, that works out to 554 annual fatal shootings of an American woman by a current or former romantic partner during the nine years examined, or one every 16 hours. Of the female victims in the AP’s study period, 3,100 — or roughly 56 percent of the total women killed — were shot by husbands, ex-husbands, or common-law husbands. Another 1,953 women were killed by their boyfriends.” A google news search for “man kills wife” on March 23, 2017 pulls up numerous stories with headlines such as these: “Pennsylvania man Kills Pregnant wife with Sword,” “Man Kills wife with Hatchet” (Florida), “Man shoots, kills wife, injures sister-in-law in Pasadena Restaurant.” The list goes on and on. And on.
In other words, many of these women were sporting a “rock” that had been “thrown” at them by a suitor.
Spicer Greene’s billboard on I240, of course, is meant to be funny. But it isn’t, not in a country where women are still conditioned to be objects purchased with gemstones that carry with them a history of the enslavement of millions of people, not in a society where men feel entitled to murder women whose bodies and minds to which, in one way or another, they feel that have an unquestionable right, and not in a society that has just seen the most explicitly misogynist election in our nation’s history, one where it was seemingly ok for people like Trump adviser Al Baldasaroto to say things like “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot.”
Gemstones are pretty. They sparkle. But the history of how they made their way from the mine to the hand of the blushing bride, how they are implicated in a racist and sexist legacy that’s all about commodification and property is worth knowing. And I hope that Spicer Greene’s billboard and the marketing strategy behind it is more reprehensible to you for knowing it.
 The most recent coverage of such an instance was last week: http://dunyanews.tv/en/World/378408-Afghan-woman-stoned-to-death-by-Taliban-for-adulte