National Geographic magazine acknowledges its racist past

14 March, 2018, 04:24 | Author: Wade Massey
  • In a full-issue article on Australia that ran in National Geographic in 1916 aboriginal Australians were called

In National Geographic's April issue, Goldberg, who identified herself as National Geographic's first woman and first Jewish editor, wrote a letter titled "For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist".

The magazine made a decision to take a tough look at its past coverage prior to the publication of its April issue, which is devoted to race.

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.

It ignored non-white Americans and showed different groups as exotic or savage, propagating "every type of cliché", editor Susan Goldberg said.

Goldberg pointed to a 1916 story about Australia that ran in the magazine, along with two photos of Aboriginal people and the demeaning caption, "South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings".

One of Mason's remarks on the National Geographic archives stands out: "It's possible to say that a magazine can open people's eyes at the same time it closes them", Goldberg quotes him as saying.

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The earlier story was printed two and a half years after the Sharpeville massacre, when 69 black South Africans were shot by police during a protest - in a turn of events that stunned the world.

He compared a piece covering apartheid-era South Africa in 1962 - which barely mentions any problems - and a second piece from 1977, which shows opposition to the regime by black leaders. That absence is as important as what is in there. Mason also uncovered a string of oddities-photos of "the native person fascinated by Western technology. It's freaky, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see".

"It's not a flawless article, but it acknowledges the oppression", Mason said.

In addition, National Geographic perpetuated the cliche of native people fascinated by technology and overloaded the magazine with pictures of lovely Pacific island women. And then there's the excess of pictures of attractive Pacific-island women.

National Geographic is known worldwide as a magazine where you can learn about animals from countries far away, or different cultures, or a look at issues happening around you.

"In two years, for the first time in USA history, less than half the children in the nation will be white". Let's not exactly say, "At least they're doing this now", but simply, as a matter of fact, "They're doing this now".

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