This song was inspired by the racial tensions in America following the 1991 beating of the black motorist Rodney King at the hands of four white police officers in Los Angeles. Bowie said that the title refers to "the racial boundaries that have been put up in most of the Western world," and adds that Black/White also refers to the caustic way of thinking that gets in the way of understanding - the idea that everything is one way or another, with no in between. The song is meant to be a challenging, realistic look at how we deal with race, and not, as Bowie says, another "Ebony And Ivory."
The "black ties" Bowie sings about have a dual meaning. In addition to pieces of formal wear, they also relate to the black American musicians who made Bowie aspire to become a songwriter and performer. Bowie says his first musical revelation was when his dad brought home a copy of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti."
Bowie duets on this song with the American Soul singer Al B. Sure!, who in addition to being a pioneer of creative punctuation, had five #1 R&B hits, including "Nite and Day," which made #7 on the Hot 100 in 1988.