National Geographic Admits Past Racist Coverage

'We had to own our story to move beyond it'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 13, 2018 12:40 AM CDT
Updated Mar 13, 2018 5:03 AM CDT
National Geographic Admits Past Racist Coverage
The cover of the April 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.   (National Geographic via AP)

National Geographic has acknowledged that it covered the world through a racist lens for generations, with its magazine portrayals of bare-breasted women and naive brown-skinned tribesmen as savage, unsophisticated, and unintelligent. "We had to own our story to move beyond it," editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg tells the AP in an interview about the magazine's April issue, which is devoted to race. National Geographic first published its magazine in 1888. An investigation conducted last fall by University of Virginia photography historian John Edwin Mason showed that until the 1970s, it virtually ignored people of color in the US who were not domestic workers or laborers, and it reinforced repeatedly the idea that people of color from foreign lands were "exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché."

For example, in a 1916 article about Australia, the caption on a photo of two Aboriginal people read: "South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings." In addition, National Geographic perpetuated the cliche of native people fascinated by technology and overloaded the magazine with pictures of beautiful Pacific island women."I think National Geographic was a product of its time," Goldberg says. "It started at the height of colonialism and that is the lens through which it covered the world." In the April issue, Goldberg, who is National Geographic's first woman and first Jewish editor, wrote a letter titled "For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It."

(More National Geographic stories.)

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