National Geographic Calls Out Their Own Racist Past

by Ellyce Ferguson

March 14, 2018

Photo by E_y_e / Getty Images

National Geographic is acknowledging that much of their coverage has been through a racist lens for generations.

“We had to own our story to move beyond it,” editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg told The Associated Press. Goldberg is the first Jewish editor-in-chief of National Geographic and the first woman to hold the position, so its no wonder that someone who identifies as a minority is finally speaking out! The magazine’s April issue is devoted to exploring race.

Before the April issue was created, however, the magazine examined their own history first.

The investigation conducted by University of Virginia photography historian John Edwin Mason showed that up until the 1970s, the publication ignored people of color in the United States who were not domestics or laborers, and depicted people of color from foreign countries as “exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages, and every type of cliché.”

The photographer also found that “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.” Similarly, advertisements featuring people of color are often skewed as well. H&M was recently under-fire for having a young black boy model in a hoodie that said, “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle.”

An article in the issue also notes that these findings can no longer be ignored or not talked about. “It’s hard for an individual—or a country—to evolve past discomfort if the source of the anxiety is only discussed in hushed tones.”

We’re hopeful that the 130-year-old publication will empower people of color in the future after this important realization.

Goldberg acknowledged that stories were previously told from an “elite, white American point of view” and that she aims to diversify her story tellers going forward. “…We need photographers who are African-American and Native American because they are going to capture a different truth and maybe a more accurate story.”

TELL US: Is National Geographic taking a step in the right direction by acknowledging the past?

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