Na­tional Geo­graphic ad­mits to past racist magazine cov­er­age

Manteca Bulletin - - Nation -

WASHINGTON (AP) — Na­tional Geo­graphic ac­knowl­edged on Mon­day that it cov­ered the world through a racist lens for gen­er­a­tions, with its magazine por­tray­als of bare-breasted women and naive brown­skinned tribes­men as sav­age, un­so­phis­ti­cated and un­in­tel­li­gent.

“We had to own our story to move be­yond it,” ed­i­tor-in-chief Su­san Gold­berg told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view about the yel­low-bor­dered 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 United States who were not do­mes­tics 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.

This ex­am­i­na­tion comes as other me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions are also cast­ing a crit­i­cal eye on their past. The New York Times re­cently ad­mit­ted that most of its obit­u­ar­ies chron­i­cled the lives of white men, and be­gan pub­lish­ing obit­u­ar­ies of fa­mous women in its “Over­looked” section.

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. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Ac­knowl­edge It.”

“I knew when we looked back there would be some sto­ry­telling that we ob­vi­ously would never do to­day, that we don’t do and we’re not proud of,” she told AP. “But it seemed to me if we want to cred­i­bly talk about race, we bet­ter look and see how we talked about race.”

Mason said he found an in­ten­tional pat­tern in his review.

“Peo­ple of color were of­ten scant­ily clothed, peo­ple of color were usu­ally not seen in cities, peo­ple of color were not of­ten sur­rounded by tech­nolo­gies of au­to­mo­biles, air­planes or trains or fac­to­ries,” he said. “Peo­ple of color were of­ten pic­tured as liv­ing as if their an­ces­tors might have lived sev­eral hun­dreds of years ago and that’s in con­trast to western­ers who are al­ways fully clothed and of­ten car­ry­ing tech­nol­ogy.”

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