National Geographic’s editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg has admitted that the publication’s past coverage has been “racist” and a stereotyped representation of people of color in the United States and abroad.

Goldberg acknowledged the error in the magazine’s coverage ahead of the April issue that is dedicated to race and its social construct. “It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine’s past. But 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,” she wrote.

Within her mea culpa, Goldberg revealed that Nat Geo’s past work was analyzed by John Edwin Mason, a University of Virginia professor who specializes in the history of photography and the history of Africa. Upon his analysis, Mason concluded that the archive “did little to push its readers beyond the stereotypes ingrained in the White American culture.”

“What Mason found, in short, was 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,” Goldberg continued. “Meanwhile it pictured ‘natives’ elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages — every type of cliché.”

Goldberg points to stories throughout the history of the magazine that started in 1888 to showcase the racist undertones of the past reporting. “In two years, for the first time in U.S. history, less than half the children in the nation will be white. So let’s talk about what’s working when it comes to race, and what isn’t,” she said. “Let’s examine why we continue to segregate along racial lines and how we can build inclusive communities. Let’s confront today’s shameful use of racism as a political strategy and prove we are better than this.”

She acknowledged how in the past even she would have been excluded from the magazine as both a woman and Jewish. There’s also a mention of the way the magazine objectified native woman to appease the male gaze. Ultimately, Goldberg is making the publication accountable for its past as a means to push for the change as the world progresses politically.

The April issue of the magazine will explore race head on and will be released on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.



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