National Geographic is trying to reckon with its racist past

National Geographic is trying to reckon with its racist past”

The iconic publication's new editor, Susan Goldberg, penned an article on Tuesday in which she acknowledged some of the magazine's past issues had left her "speechless".

"It's possible to say that a magazine can open people's eyes at the same time it closes them", he said.

Goldberg wrote that the magazine enlisted John Edwin Mason, a University of Virginia professor who has expertise in African history and photography, to examine its archives.

As part of a special issue on race, National Geographic magazine chose to examine its own coverage. Non-white people in other countries were depicted as "exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages - every type of cliché", Mr Mason said.

The April issue of National Geographic "explores how race defines, separates, and unites us".

The magazine also largely ignored the plight of poor African-Americans while relishing in the oddities of poor African tribes, he found.

He compared a piece covering apartheid-era South Africa in 1962 - which barely mentions any problems - and a second piece from 1977, which shows opposition to the regime by black leaders.

Goldberg, the first female editor of the magazine, said Aboriginal Australians were called "savages" in a 1916 story; California cotton workers were dubbed offensive slurs like "pickaninny"; and admitted that Haile Selassie's coronation as Ethiopia's king in 1930 wouldn't have been covered if he was a black man in America. That absence is as important as what is in there. "Black people are pictured. It's weird, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see".

"It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine's past", she wrote. "That was a colour line, and National Geographic was reflecting that view of the world".

The deal saw the magazine drop its not-for-profit status, held for its entire previous history, to become a for-profit venture.

In late 2017 it emerged that National Geographic would merge with Disney as part of the company's $US52 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox.

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