National Geographic is apologizing for its past racist coverage, saying the only way to rise above the past is to acknowledge its mistakes.
“For decades our coverage was racist,” editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg wrote in a piece for the magazine’s March issue. “Let’s confront today’s shameful use of racism as a political strategy and prove we are better than this.”
Goldberg later announced a year-long series of stories on race starting in next month:
We are kicking off a year-long series of stories about race, starting with our April issue devoted to the topic. We begin by taking a look at ourselves. My essay on @NatGeo’s past, and very different present. https://t.co/y4L70VZ8tG via @NatGeoMag
— Susan Goldberg (@susanbgoldberg) March 12, 2018
“It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine’s past,” Goldberg wrote. “We thought we should examine our own history before turning our reportorial gaze to others.”
The 130-year-old National Geographic, now a staple of American culture, is famous for its coverage of exotic international locales, often including less developed cultures far away from the United States. While Goldberg wants the magazine to continue to give readers a window into these cultures, it will attempt to do so more respectfully, she said.
Over the years, National Geographic has published numerous articles that would be considered racist by today’s standards. “South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings,” one 1916 caption under two photos of Australian Aboriginals read. Though the magazine published plenty of pieces on black people abroad, until the 1970s it did not tend to feature articles about African-Americans. American blacks were even blocked from becoming members of the National Geographic Society throughout the 1940s, at least in Washington, D.C.
Goldberg said the magazine’s modern coverage of Africa, evolving views on gender, and ethnic and religious conflicts would have been “unthinkable” in the past.
“National Geographic did little to push its readers beyond the stereotypes ingrained in white American culture,” the editor-in-chief remarked.
The March “Race Issue” received a mostly positive response from readers, many thanking National Geographic for the idea.
@susanbgoldberg Thank you so much for your poignant @natgeo op-ed. Thank you! As a travel photographer also repped by @NatGeoCreative and of Nigerian descent, I’ve been fighting for years to change that narrative through my own images of people #Respect https://t.co/77shuwZD59
— Lola Akinmade Åkerström (@LolaAkinmade) March 12, 2018
An amazing example of owning your past and evolving with self reflection. Thank you National Geographic for taking an honest look at race, starting with the history of your own publication. Bravo! 👏👏🏾👏🏿 https://t.co/ROi9bV1bYf
— Jen Kwok 🐬💫 (@jenkwok) March 13, 2018
“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.” https://t.co/9forcyt4ae
— National Geographic (@NatGeoMag) March 12, 2018
The series on race will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4.