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National Geographic Admits Past Racist Coverage and Promises to Do Better

In a powerful new issue revolving around race, National Geographic recognized its history with racist and culturally insensitive news coverage. The April issue is set to hit stands March 27, but their online content has since garnered attention over a particular confession that the company made.

For the magazine issue, editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg writes about the experience of hiring a historian to study past National Geographic articles and issues and determine if racism was prevalent. From outright stating that Aboriginal Australians were “savages” to depicting native tribes as unadvanced people who were dazzled and blessed with the sight of Western creations, research showed that the magazine often reinforced racist ideology.

As Goldberg also highlights, National Geographic was guilty of intentionally leaving out or altogether ignoring racial issues around the world. In their 1962 article about South Africa, during a decade in which tensions between whites and blacks reached a new and violent height worldwide, the writers pointedly made no mention of the growing discrimination against black South Africans

The type of journalism that National Geographic published reflected the state of the world at that particular moment in time, and racism was, unfortunately, an accepted and normalized mindset in the past (and arguably today as well). Minority groups, especially those of African descent, were incredibly marginalized and abused by the privileged greater population, those obsessed with the idea of racial superiority.

This acknowledgment of past mistakes is incredibly meaningful. For years now, the world has shied away from speaking about race and tiptoed delicately around the absolute ignorance that surrounded a human-created social concept. The fact that National Geographic is willing to step up and admit its mistakes illustrates a level of maturity that is lacking in our interactions involving race today. Moreover, recognition of their misguided errors will only encourage the publication itself (as well as others) to be more aware and respectful of how they illustrate and report all people.

National Geographic, unfortunately, cannot be the only news publication with this type of history. Hopefully, this issue will set the precedent for other organizations, magazines, newspapers, and the entertainment sect to officially address racist behavior and work even harder to avoid repeating it.

This question does arise: Is this enough? Is writing one issue dedicated to race sufficient to “make up” for the past? It is much too soon to decide entirely now, as future articles still haven’t been written yet to make a comparison and create a firm argument. If National Geographic, however, does not make this issue a turning point in their publication’s history and follow up with action (i.e. articles and coverage) that clearly demonstrates a change in their previous approach to race, this issue will be nothing more than a weak attempt at superficial redemption.

Let’s hope it’s not.

Picture Credit: Alex Andrews via Pexel


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