National Geographic addresses 'appalling' racist past

In this image provided by National Geographic the cover of the April 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine a single topic issue on the subject of race

In this image provided by National Geographic the cover of the April 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine a single topic issue on the subject of race

An investigation conducted last fall by University of Virginia photography historian John Edwin Mason showed that until the 1970s, it virtually ignored people of colour in the United States who were not domestics or labourers, and it reinforced repeatedly the idea that people of colour from foreign lands were "exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages-every type of cliche".

Defined by its yellow-bordered covers and stunning photography, the magazine has been a window to the world for many Americans, featuring culture, travel, science, and geography.

Susan Goldberg, the editor, has written a letter for the April issue entitled "For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. But when we made a decision 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".

"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.

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National Geographic first put out an issue in the year 1888. "Our explorers, scientists, photographers, and writers have taken people to places they'd never even imagined; it's a tradition that still drives our coverage and of which we're rightly proud". She wrote that her background makes her "a member of two groups that also once faced discrimination here".

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. "But when we chose 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". A photo caption in the article read: "South Australian Black fellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings".

"National Geographic's story barely mentions any problems", Mason said. That absence is as important as what is in there. "It's freaky, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see".

It chose to re-examine its coverage to mark 50 years since civil rights leader Martin Luther King was murdered. "It's also a conversation that is changing in real time". "So let's talk about what's working when it comes to race, and what isn't".

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