National Geographic Says They Used To Be Racist…


When people think of National Geographic, many think of their notorious images of tribal peoples covered in intricate facepaint or jewelry… oftentimes topless.

I always found those stories really fascinating. It’s so interesting to me that people living lives so RADICALLY different from our own share our planet.

It made me appreciate their culture and our differences. It also got me thinking about what MY life looked like, what my priorities were, and what I valued…

If people in the world lived full lives in this way… where the material goods I considered necessary really all that important?

But food, shelter, and FAMILY… those things are universal…. and I always liked thinking about that.

Anyway… National Geographic is now saying those pictures and articles were “racist.”

According to this:

National Geographic acknowledged on Monday that it covered the world through a racist lens for generations, with its magazine portrayals of bare-breasted women and naive brown-skinned tribesmen as savage, unsophisticated and unintelligent.

‘We had to own our story to move beyond it,’ editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg told The Associated Press in an interview about the yellow-bordered magazine’s April issue, which is devoted to race.

National Geographic first published its magazine in 1888. An investigation conducted last fall by University of Virginia photography historian John Edwin Mason showed that until the 1970s, it virtually ignored people of color in the United States who were not domestics or laborers.

He also found it reinforced repeatedly the idea that people of color from foreign lands were ‘exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages – every type of cliché.’

Now, maybe I’m overthinking this… but is that not offensive to the REAL people who were featured in these articles?

Because they were. They were real people whose real lives were featured for the world to see… are they being called clichés?

In National Geographic’s April issue, Goldberg, who identified herself as National Geographic’s first woman and first Jewish editor, wrote a letter titled ‘For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.’

‘I knew when we looked back there would be some storytelling that we obviously would never do today, that we don’t do and we’re not proud of,’ she said.

‘But it seemed to me if we want to credibly talk about race, we better look and see how we talked about race.’

Mason said he found an intentional pattern in his review.

‘People of color were often scantily clothed, people of color were usually not seen in cities, people of color were not often surrounded by technologies of automobiles, airplanes or trains or factories,’ he said.

‘People of color were often pictured as living as if their ancestors might have lived several hundreds of years ago and that’s in contrast to westerners who are always fully clothed and often carrying technology.’

I thought that was because National Geographic featured people who lived in very different ways than we do. That was the appeal. To learn about different cultures.

I have very little interest in reading about what my neighbor does with his Iphone… you know?

White teenage boys ‘could count on every issue or two of National Geographic having some brown skin bare breasts for them to look at, and I think editors at National Geographic knew that was one of the appeals of their magazine, because women, especially Asian women from the pacific islands, were photographed in ways that were almost glamour shots.’

National Geographic, which now reaches 30 million people around the world, was the way that many Americans first learned about the rest of the world, said professor Samir Husni, who heads the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s journalism school.

Making sure that kind of coverage never happens again should be paramount, Husni said. ‘Trying to integrate the magazine media with more hiring of diverse writers and minorities in the magazine field is how we apologize for the past,’ Husni said.

Goldberg said she is doing just that, adding that in the past, the magazine has done a better job at gender diversity than racial and ethnic diversity.

Ok then.

‘The coverage wasn’t right before because it was told from an elite, white American point of view, and I think it speaks to exactly why we needed a diversity of storytellers,’ Goldberg said.

‘So we need photographers who are African-American and Native American because they are going to capture a different truth and maybe a more accurate story.’

National Geographic was one of the first advocates of using color photography in its pages, and is well known for its coverage of history, science, environmentalism and the far corners of the world.

It currently can be found in 172 countries and in 43 languages every month.

I understand wanting to be respectful and understanding in the representation of other cultures… but I have a hard time understanding how showing other people’s reality of NOT having “technology” and not being “fully clothed” by Western standards is automatically racist.

‘People of color were often pictured as living as if their ancestors might have lived several hundreds of years ago and that’s in contrast to westerners who are always fully clothed and often carrying technology’

Well…. Western people are usually wearing western clothing and carrying technology… what are they supposed to do about cultures that DON’T do that? Make them put shirts on and hold laptops?

Or just stop featuring them all together?

I don’t get it.