It's pretty crazy that in just 1983, a representative for MTV, Mark Goodman, openly admitted that MTV avoided airing black artists' music videos because they wanted to appeal to white audiences. In this interview with David Bowie, he's pretty clear about how programming is designed to bring in white kids in Poughkeepsie, and that's it. Bowie is relentless in his line of questioning in a way few artists would be willing to be today, at least in person. On Twitter, anything goes:
In the interview, Bowie says:
There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV.
And when Goodman responds with this bullsh*t excuse:
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.
Bowie then tells him to stop shifting blame, "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?”
Not a lot of white artist's were in a rush to criticize a system that favored them, so it's remarkable to see Bowie using his influence to challenge MTV. To be fair to Goodman, he later reflected on the interview saying he agreed with Bowie, but couldn't talk sh*t about the network that employed him. Goodman said:
So when Bowie started in with me, I tried to explain the rock format idea. And Bowie was not having it.
I was fumpfering around for something to say, and the interview felt like an eternity. The fact was, J.J. [Jackson] and I had been talking about this. He pointed out to me that he was initially down with the rock format, but once MTV started to play Spandau Ballet and ABC — basically, white R&B acts — he felt there was no reason not to play black R&B acts.
Cultural appropriation in music and the prioritization of white musicians is still an issue that creates Internet firestorms today, though MTV has gotten a lot better at PR. Look at Iggy Azalea vs. Azaelia Banks. Thirty years ago, MTV would have admitted out loud that they give Iggy screen time because she's white. Things have changed in that respect, at least.