The poignant reaction to the death of David Bowie last January resulted in the world paying tribute to the remarkable singer who was the master of musical re-invention over the course of five decades.
But in one dark corner of the internet, the late, great Bowie is being misrepresented as a racist.
Bowie was not racist, but here is a selection of tweets from people who think he was:
david bowie was so racist he used to shoot black people if they said they didnt like his music
— Noah (@BagOfFeels2) June 29, 2016
I never knew David Bowie was such a racist! 😮😮😮😉 https://t.co/KQAWxAK2b4
— Paul Register (@Bloke_of_Steel) September 15, 2016
The Thin White Duke character was racist and sexist – indicative of white male supremacy #DavidBowie
— Tom_Dot (@flannobrien111) September 9, 2016
David Bowie was a racist #LookOnTheBrightSideIn5Words
— 💀Tyler💀 (@NEGATIVECRYBABY) July 2, 2016
At least he wasn’t racist like David Bowie. https://t.co/60gotjLfOM
— onlythisguyspicture (@TepidButter) June 2, 2016
China girl is so racist but it’s literally ironically racist God bless David Bowie
— frank 🎃 (@hyperthot) June 20, 2016
Much of the social media outcry might stem from Bowie’s brief flirtation with Nazi imagery during the 1970s when he created the “Thin White Duke” persona. Bowie later openly admitted to being on cocaine during this unedifying phase, which culminated in the “Victoria Station incident” in 1976, when he was pictured giving what seemed to be a Nazi salute, something he always denied.
But at the time Bowie was dating a black woman — Motown singer Ava Cherry — and he later married Somali supermodel Iman. As the Daily Beast concluded in an exhaustive investigation on the singer and race published just after his death: “Bowie-as-racist seemed to contradict so much of who he’d been previously and where he would go in the coming decade…It disturbed him to see himself linked so explicitly to Nazism and any appeal the imagery had became troubling.”
Bowie was to later chide MTV for not showing enough African-American music videos (“There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV”) and Australia for its race relations record to Rolling Stone (“As much as I love this country, it’s probably one of the most racially intolerant in the world, well in line with South Africa.”)
While he also gets slammed on social media for perpetuating racial stereotypes in the 1983 video for his song China Girl, critics distort his real intentions. As the Washington Post wrote: “Bowie was donning the role of a racist womanizer not only to decry racist womanizing but to condemn the West’s demeaning view of the East as a whole. China Girl was a parody of racism and stereotyping.”
Perhaps his social media accusers might also like to learn Bowie donated the proceeds from his 1993 single Black Tie White Noise to an educational center for underprivileged black kids and he contributed $10,000 to the legal defense fund for six black teens from Louisiana who were charged in an alleged attack on a white classmate after they had been the victim of hate crimes.
In other words, actions over the course of his iconic five-decade career speak louder than a few unwise words as The Thin White Duke.
Ironically, Bowie himself predicted the firestorm of internet injustice that would come his way following his death. He told the BBC in 1999: “What the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable.”