'I'm Just Floored by the Fact There Are So Few Black Artists on MTV. Why Is That?'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader digs up a great moment from the late David Bowie:

Jay Smooth recently posted this video of Bowie asking, with terrible politeness, why there were so few black artists featured on MTV. It’s an absolute masterclass in how to use privilege well. Being a white celebrity means that he doesn’t have to shout to be heard. Being a white musician means that he has an advantage when it comes to remaining genuinely calm in these sorts of debates, because it’s not personal to him, and rather than treating that fact as a reason to abandon calmness, he treats it as an opportunity.

Finally, being white at all means he has a better chance of being perceived as calm. I don’t think a black person could have said all that, in precisely that tone, without being pejoratively accused of being “angry.” So, Bowie just uses the power he has to pull an awkward fact into the light and sit with it until it becomes terribly uncomfortable, deftly walking the line of politeness without ever letting MTV off the hook. It’s beautiful, and worth learning from.

Much more Bowie praise from Atlantic readers and writers here.