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David Bowie challenged MTV for its discrimination against black musicians

Carl Court/Getty Images

Whatever one says of David Bowie, it's clear the legendary artist was always true to himself, never shying away from exotic images and genre-bending music. And as Kim Renfro reported at Tech Insider, that streak of independence sometimes spilled over to social causes.

In the early 1980s, MTV was heavily criticized for neglecting black artists. In one case, MTV didn't air Rick James's "Super Freak," leading James to complain to Rolling Stone: "Me and every one of my peers — Earth, Wind, and Fire, Stevie Wonder, the Gap Band, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson — have great videos. Why doesn't MTV show them?"

Bowie, however, was a white artist who was getting a lot of attention from MTV. So in an interview with the network, he confronted MTV VJ Mark Goodman about discrimination against black artists:

David Bowie: "Why are there practically no blacks on the network?"

Mark Goodman: "We seem to be doing music that fits into what we want to play on MTV. The company is thinking in terms of narrowcasting."

David Bowie: "There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I'm surprised aren't being used on MTV."

Mark Goodman: "We have to try and do what we think not only New York and Los Angeles will appreciate, but also Poughkeepsie or the Midwest. Pick some town in the Midwest which would be scared to death by … a string of other black faces, or black music. We have to play music we think an entire country is going to like, and certainly we're a rock and roll station."

David Bowie: "Don't you think it's a frightening predicament to be in?"

Mark Goodman: "Yeah, but no less so here than in radio."

David Bowie: "Don't say, 'Well, it's not me, it's them.' Is it not possible it should be a conviction of the station and of the radio stations to be fair … to make the media more integrated?"

Even though it could threaten his reputation with a network that could make or break careers, Bowie wasn't afraid to stand up for racial justice — a cause that unfortunately remains, more than 30 years later, very much necessary.


Watch: The Oscars' horrible lack of diversity, explained