Anorak News | National Geographic comes clean over its smutty, racist past

National Geographic comes clean over its smutty, racist past

by | 14th, March 2018

It’s now the turn of the dentist’s waiting room to revisit its past with candour. Finally, the old magazines are being cast out. National Geographic has issued a mea culpa over its past. The magazine has hired University of Virginia associate professor John Edward Mason to trawl the archives and expose any and all evidence of racism he can find. Items like a 1916 photo of Australian Aborigines with the caption “South Australian Blackfellows” – “savages” who “rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings”.

Mason notes that until the 1970s non-white Americans were only portrayed as manual workers or domestic staff.

And there was the sex.

“Teenage boys could always rely, in the ’50s and ’60s, on National Geographic to show them bare-breasted women as long as the women had brown or black skin,” Mason tells NPR. “I think the editors understood this was frankly a selling point to its male readers. Some of the bare-breasted young women are shot in a way that almost resembles glamour shots.”

“Through most of its history, National Geographic, in words and images, reproduced a racial hierarchy with brown and black people at the bottom, and white people at the top,” says Mason..



The magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg explains why the audit was needed:

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. 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.

Race is not a biological construct, as writer Elizabeth Kolbert explains in this issue, but a social one that can have devastating effects. “So many of the horrors of the past few centuries can be traced to the idea that one race is inferior to another,” she writes. “Racial distinctions continue to shape our politics, our neighborhoods, and our sense of self.”

Times change. Much of the magazine’s photography has been incredibly good. The acid test is in whether or not people are still willing to pay for it…

Posted: 14th, March 2018 | In: News Comment | TrackBack | Permalink