National Geographic addresses 'appalling' racist past

Elias Hubbard
March 13, 2018

Ms Goldberg urged readers to "confront today's shameful use of racism as a political strategy and prove we are better than this".

Asked to examine its coverage, University of Virginia associate professor John Edwin Mason said National Geographic had served only to reinforce racist attitudes in a magazine with "tremendous authority".

The article cited a USA academic, Jason Mason, a professor of African history, who conducted an audit of National Geographic's archives.

Its coverage of race matters, according to Goldberg.

"National Geographic comes into existence at the height of colonialism, and the world was divided into the colonisers and the colonised". "Our explorers, scientists, photographers, and writers have taken people to places they'd never even imagined; it's a tradition that still drives our coverage and of which we're rightly proud".

The iconic publication's new editor, Susan Goldberg, penned an article on Tuesday in which she acknowledged some of the magazine's past issues had left her "speechless".

"We hope you will join us in this exploration of race, beginning this month and continuing throughout the year", she wrote.

Writing as the first woman and Jewish person to helm the magazine, Ms. Goldberg introduced the April issue which focuses on race by stating "when we made a decision 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".

The editor said she was "speechless" to learn that two South Australians, pictured above, were described by the magazine as "savages" of "lowest" intelligence in a 1916 issue.

The magazine also largely ignored the plight of poor African-Americans while relishing in the oddities of poor African tribes, he found. In 1962, an essay was published on South Africa's Sharpeville massacre where policemen killed close to 70 black South Africans, many whom were shot as they were retreating.

"National Geographic's story barely mentions any problems", Mason said. No black South Africans were interviewed for the essay. That absence is as important as what is in there. "It's freakish, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see".

The new edition marks 50 years since the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

"It's also a conversation that is changing in real time: In two years, for the first time in United States history, less than half the children in the nation will be white", she wrote.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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