National Geographic is taking the first step, as a media platform, to combat biased and racist reporting by first admitting their coverage over the past four decades has--in fact--been racist.
Perhaps we can move forward.
Susan Goldberg, the magazine's editor in chief, says if the periodical is going to tackle the issue of racism, it better first look at the plank in its own eye.
"I’m the tenth editor of National Geographic since its founding in 1888. I’m the first woman and the first Jewish person—a member of two groups that also once faced discrimination here. It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine’s past," Goldberg said. "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."
Goldberg hired historian John Edwin Mason to delve into the magazine archives and to examine its covers over the past. Mason is a University of Virginia professor, specializing in the history of photography and the history of Africa.
"[U]ntil the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers ... meanwhile, it pictured 'natives' elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché." Goldberg said.
They discovered in the magazine's early years, it published very little to push readers past stereotypes. “Americans got ideas about the world from Tarzan movies and crude racist caricatures,” Mason said.
The magazine realized it, too showed people through a very narrow lens, and often times told a single story.
In 2015, they handed the camera over to a Haitian photography to document the reality of the world through their lens. This change in the magazine's coverage will hopefully lead to more diverse writers, photographers, editors and artists, sharing stories that will impact and shape how we view far and unknown places.
National Geographic has shined a light on its racist practice. Hopefully, racist and biased reporting will come to a full stop.
As one journalist writes in the issue
“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.”