National Geographic Drags Itself For Decades Of Racist Coverage, And People Think It's About Time

Washington, UNITED STATES:  TO GO WITH AFP STORY: AFPLifestyle-US-media sched-FEATURE  This 04 April, 2006 photo illustration shows copies of National Geographic magazine in several languages. In 1995, National Geographic began publishing in Japanese, its first local language edition. The magazine is now published in thirty (30) different language editions around the world, including: English on a worldwide basis, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.  AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER  (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

National Geographic Drags Itself For Decades Of Racist Coverage, And People Think It's About Time

Some wonder if other media outlets will follow in the magazine's footsteps.

Published March 13, 2018

Before the magazine National Geographic dedicated its April issue to the subject of race, it made a bold move and dragged itself for succumbing to decades of racist reporting.

In an article for the race issue, National Geographic’s editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg, asked John Edwin Mason, a professor of African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia, to investigate the racism in the magazine’s 130 year archive.

Based on Mason’s research, the magazine’s coverage of people of color tended to portray them in stereotypical situations without exploring their individual struggles.

"[U]ntil the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers," writes Goldberg in the issue's editor letter, where she discusses Mason's findings. "Meanwhile it pictured 'natives' elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages — every type of cliché."

In one particular piece about South Africa in 1962, the article did not mention a massacre wherein 69 Black South Africans were killed by police.

“National Geographic’s story barely mentions any problems,” Mason said. “There are no voices of black South Africans. That absence is as important as what is in there. The only black people are doing exotic dances … servants or workers. It’s bizarre, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see.”

  1. National Geographic's decision to call itself out for racist reporting was applauded by many
  2. There were some skeptics who questioned the magazine's intention
  3. In her letter, Goldberg said she hopes people will look back on National Geographic with pride

    "For us this issue also provided an important opportunity to look at our own efforts to illuminate the human journey, a core part of our mission for 130 years. I want a future editor of National Geographic to look back at our coverage with pride—not only about the stories we decided to tell and how we told them but about the diverse group of writers, editors, and photographers behind the work," Goldberg wrote.

  4. For the most part, people appreciated the effort taken by Goldberg and hope other publications do the same

Written by Rachel Herron

(Photo: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)


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