“The loss of David Bowie is still being felt around the world, with fans—both the famous and not-so-famous—acknowledging how much the legendary rocker’s music and creativity have impacted them over the course of his six-decade career. Bowie’s enigmatic, malleable personas make him endlessly fascinating.
A video clip of Bowie’s infamous 1983 exchange with MTV VJ Mark Goodman has gone viral in the wake of his death. During the interview, Bowie reverses roles and begins quizzing Goodman about MTV’s lack of support for black artists.
“There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV.”
Goodman defended it as “narrowcasting.”
“The few black artists one does see are on around 2:30 in the morning until about 6,” Bowie added. “I’ll say that over the last couple of weeks these things have been changing, but it’s a slow process.”
Goodman goes on to try to defend the network, but only seems to defend MTV’s racism as an extension of the racism of its perceived audience.
“We grew up in an era when the Isley Brothers mean something to me—or the Spinners… but what does it mean to a 17-year-old?”
“I can tell you what the Isley Brothers or Marvin Gaye mean to a black 17-year-old and surely he’s part of America as well,” Bowie shot back.
It would be easy to overpraise a white superstar for acknowledging racism on any level; we tend to become enamored with those in positions of societal privilege who both recognize that privilege and are willing to challenge systematic oppression.
A man who is vocal on women’s rights issues gains loud applause for saying what women consistently say for themselves. Straight people superficially “standing up” for the LGBTQ community become as lauded as the most battle-scared gay activists, and white people who call out white supremacy can be heralded as “progressive” just because the system ignored the protests of the black people it routinely oppresses.
But Bowie’s journey as it pertains to race is intriguing because it takes so many confounding twists and turns; most notably, how does one go from immersing their music in the funk and soul sounds of Young Americans to indulging a Nazism and fascism fetish to speaking out consistently about race and racism? It may be the most fascinating element in Bowie’s famously ever-changing persona and outlook…”