MTV will not air in color programming for twelve hours today. In observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the network will air in black and white. Every commercial break will begin with commentary about race relations from several celebrities and public officials including Kendrick Lamar, Jordin Sparks, Senator Cory Booker, Big Sean, Pete Wentz, Selma director Ava DuVernay, and actor David Oyelowo. A representative from MTV spoke to People magazine about the network taking an initiative to encourage viewers to discuss race with their friends and family, “Our aim is to jar audiences into having what we’re calling ‘The Talk’ – candid, confident and ‘color brave’ conversations on race and bias.”
MTV started a “Look Different” campaign last year aimed at helping young people deal with bias and discrimination. “In addition to entertaining its audience, MTV has traditionally engaged viewers in social issues,” said MTV President Stephen K. Friedman. The campaign created commercials with civil rights groups, including the NAACP. The network commissioned researcher Luke Hales to find out how much of their young audience “knew about bias,” “talked about bias,” and “cared about bias.” Hales polled a nationally representative sample of people from the ages of 14-24. Hale concluded that only about twenty percent of the young people involved in the study were comfortable talking about bias. “When we first introduced what we’d be talking about, people became really uncomfortable.” Hale continued, “There’s this weird kind of snake-eating-its-tail thing where so many of our audience was brought up to be colorblind, to not talk about race.”
Hale’s research found that a large majority of respondents believed people should be treated the same, regardless of race. The participants also feel that people their age believed in equality more than people older than them. Most respondents said they had experienced bias, but the numbers for people of color, women, and LGBT were much higher. The study also concluded that sixty-five percent of people of color felt whites had more opportunities than people from racial minority groups. In the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, and the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD, some believe that it is time to start discussing race relations.