National Geographic magazine acknowledges its racist past
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National Geographic, the science, history and geography magazine has acknowledged its pas coverage as racist, in a new essay by incoming editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg.
Writing as the first woman and Jewish person to helm the magazine, Ms. Goldberg introduced the April issue which focuses on race by stating “when we decided to devote our April magazine to the topic of race, we thought we should examine our own history before turning our reportorial gaze to others.”
The magazine contacted historian John Edwin Mason from the University of Virginia to delve into their archives and study with their treatment of non-white races. Mr. Mason found that until the 1970s “National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers. Meanwhile it pictured “natives” elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché.”
Mr. Mason comparied to articles in the magazine — one in 1962, and the other in 1977. In 1962, an essay was published on South Africa’s Sharpeville massacre where policemen killed close to 70 black South Africans, many whom were shot as they were retreating. No black South Africans were interviewed for the essay.
The 1977 article was after the U.S. Civil Rights movement and there was a marked shift in reportage, Mr. Mason found. “Black people are pictured. Opposition leaders are pictured. It’s a very different article.”
The magazine chose to do this, as Ms. Goldberg put it, because “we have a duty, in every story, to present accurate and authentic depictions—a duty heightened when we cover fraught issues such as race.”