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‘National Geographic’ Acknowledges Years Of Racist Coverage In The Past & Promises To ‘Rise Above’ It

Earlier on Monday, National Geographic officially recognized its racist past in an article by editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg.

Since publication, the article has sparked online discussions on social media and on blogs. In the article, Goldberg writes that their decision to recognize their dark past stems from the release of their April issue, which focuses entirely on race.

“…we thought we should examine our own history before turning our reportorial gaze to others,” writes Goldberg.

As the first female editor and the first Jewish editor of National Geographic, Goldberg says she feels accountable to stand up to those misrepresented in past coverage. In an attempt to clarify their past, professor John Edwin Mason at the University of Virginia looked at all of the magazine’s archives since its founding in 1888.

Mason found that National Geographic failed to report on people of color in the United States until 1970, and when covering people of color from other countries, the magazine portrayed them as their exotic stereotypes. In some cases, they were even referred to as “savage”, such as in articles covering Australian aborigines.

National Geographic comes into existence at the height of colonialism, and the world was divided into the colonizers and the colonized,” said Mason. “That was a color line, and National Geographic was reflecting that view of the world.”

However, most of the magazine’s racist past was left behind in the 70s and 60s. Today’s coverage shows a more well-rounded point of view, just like the magazine had originally set out to do.

Observing the results of his research, Mason marvels at how much change has happened at National Geographic. He calls the current coverage on race and gender norms “unthinkable” in comparison to past articles. Goldberg’s article is shocking and sets a precedent for other publications to look at not only their influence on the public but on their past.

“Sometimes these stories, like parts of our own history, are not easy to read,” she says.

You can check out National Geographic‘s race issue here.

Arielle Kimbarovsky is a writer, artist, and recent Broadway fan studying advertising at Boston University. When she's not writing an article, you can find Arielle drinking too much coffee or taking on casual projects like sending cameras into space.
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