National Geographic magazine is taking responsibility for its historical racist coverage.
Editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg acknowledged in an article titled “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist” that the venerable publication has ignored non-white Americans and perpetuated racist stereotypes.
“Some of what you find in our archives leaves you speechless,” Goldberg wrote in the editorial, published online Monday.
“It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine’s past,” Goldberg added. “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.”
For the special issue, Goldberg asked University of Virginia associate professor John Edwin Mason to analyze the publication’s reporting since its founding in 1888.
Mason concluded 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,” according to Goldberg.
She added that the publication “pictured ‘natives’ elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché.”
The description of Aboriginal people in Australia in 1916 as “savages” who “rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings” was a particularly appalling example.
Goldberg said the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4 provided a “worthy moment to step back” to “take stock of where we are on race.”
“I want a future editor of National Geographic to look back at our coverage with pride,” she wrote. “Not only about the stories we decided to tell and how we told them but about the diverse group of writers, editors, and photographers behind the work.”
Read Goldberg’s full editorial on NationalGeographic.com here.