National Geographic Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg recently published a letter from the editor spelling out something many people already knew: For decades, the magazine had been racist in its coverage.
“…Until the 1970s, National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers,” Goldberg wrote in the piece, “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.” She went on: “Meanwhile it pictured ‘natives’ elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages — every type of cliché.”
Goldberg’s article, came as the magazine unveiled its April issue on “Race.” It is the first in a series of issues published throughout the year on the changing roles of racial, ethnic and religious groups in the 21st century.
Her admission is a critical step in addressing racism, sexism and colonialism — the elephants, lions and wildebeests in the room, if you will, of National Geographic’s storied past.
However, Goldberg’s piece didn’t go far enough. She wrote: “I want a future editor of National Geographic to look back at our coverage with pride — not only about the stories we decided to tell and how we told them but about the diverse group of writers, editors and photographers behind the work.”