National Geographic admits to being 'racist'

National Geographic acknowledges it covered world through racist lens for generations

A 1916 issue described Australian Aboriginal people as "South Australian Blackfellows" and "savages" who "rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings".

Asked to examine its coverage, University of Virginia associate professor John Edwin Mason said National Geographic had served only to reinforce racist attitudes in a magazine with "tremendous authority".

After 130 years of publication, editors of National Geographic magazine acknowledged that their past coverage of people of color, both in and out of the USA was racist, according to a essay in their April issue devoted to the topic of race. "Meanwhile it pictured "natives" elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages-every type of cliché".

In a nation that generally has a hard time grappling with slavery and other wrongs of the past, National Geographic just flipped the script.

"The coverage wasn't right before because it was told from an elite, white American point of view, and I think it speaks to exactly why we needed a diversity of storytellers", Goldberg said. After examining the National Geographic archives, Goldberg writes, Mason found that from the magazine's founding in the late-19th century through the 1960s, its coverage of non-white people was characterized by several obvious and persistent flaws.

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"It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine's past", Goldberg wrote. She wrote that her background makes her "a member of two groups that also once faced discrimination here".

In 2015, they handed the camera over to a Haitian photography to document the reality of the world through their lens.

But the historian also acknowledged the good work the magazine did even during this period in showing its readers the wider world. That absence is as important as what is in there. "It's weird, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see".

While National Geographic's decision to focus its April issue on race was based, Goldberg writes, on April 4 being the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, the choice to examine the magazine's past marginalization of minority groups was something she took personally.

"It's also a conversation that is changing in real time: In two years, for the first time in U.S. history, less than half the children in the nation will be white", she wrote. How we talk about race is also crucial.

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