UNITED STATES — Before pointing the finger at other media regarding racial tensions, Nat Geo decides to take several seats after realizing it’s been part of the problem.
According to National Geographic, its April issue will focus on the topic of racism and racial divides. More importantly, its focus will include a discussion on bridging lines of segregation.
National Geographic hired a historian to investigate the magazine's racist past. What did he find? pic.twitter.com/Ql5S83ruuJ
— AJ+ (@ajplus) March 13, 2018
Note: Although, its timing is quite interesting. During the source’s article, it offers the following statistical statement:
“In two years, for the first time in U.S. history, less than half the children in the nation will be white. So let’s talk about what’s working when it comes to race, and what isn’t. Let’s examine why we continue to segregate along racial lines and how we can build inclusive communities. Let’s confront today’s shameful use of racism as a political strategy and prove we are better than this.”
It’s obvious the tides are turning regarding who will be the majority and minority of the future.
Yet, it’s equally intriguing that the source would introduce a “let’s all get along” mentality into a space where it’s perpetuated a superior/inferior view of the world for so long.
A CONFESSION ON MISREPRESENTATION
You see, in 2014, National Geographic found itself a new editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg. She’s actually the writer for this week’s acknowledgemental confession of Nat Geo‘s historical part in American racist views.
The article’s headline reads: “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.”
“It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine’s past,” Goldberg states. “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.”
According to Goldberg, she’s the magazine’s first female and Jewish editor since its first publication in 1888.
So, she says she understands — doubly — on what affect oppressive or biased thinking and perception can have pertaining to social influence.
During the article, Goldberg mentions, “How we present race matters.”
She notes that many magazine readers have informed her that National Geographic has been their first view of the outside world — outside the United States, that is.
“Our explorers, scientists, photographers, and writers have taken people to places they’d never even imagined,” says Goldberg.
Yet, this also means they have incredible influence over people’s perceptions; and with that, they’ve also a tremendous responsibility to uphold.
“It means we have a duty, in every story, to present accurate and authentic depictions — a duty heightened when we cover fraught issues such as race.” — Susan Goldberg
As a trending hashtag notes, “#RepresentationMatters.” This can be seen by the societal effects Hollywood has produced in regards to the worldwide perception of Blacks.
Note: For the longest time, Blacks have been portrayed as villains or evildoers of some sort. And in certain countries in the eastern hemisphere, there aren’t many Blacks. So, those cultures only receive their information from news and movies. Hence, as Goldberg states, “How we present race matters.”
THE EVALUATION THAT OPENED THEIR EYES
According to the editor-in-chief, the company hired John Edwin Mason — a University of Virginia professor specializing in the history of photography and the history of Africa — to help with National Geographic‘s self-examination.
After delving into their archives, Mason revealed some serious, eye-opening, hard-to-swallow truths about the source…to the source. Goldberg mentions as follows.
“What Mason found in short was…[from 1888] until the 1970’s, 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.”
“Unlike magazines such as Life,” Goldberg continues, “Mason said, National Geographic did little to push its readers beyond the stereotypes ingrained in white American culture.”
For instance, one of its 1916 articles was titled: “South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings.”
Another, from 1962, discussed the aftermath of a South African massacre when police shot 69 Blacks in the back as they fled.
According to Goldberg, Mason wasn’t exactly concerned with what was included the magazine. His concern was what was excluded. The source quotes Mason’s verdict as follows.
“National Geographic’s story barely mentions any problems. There are no voices of black South Africans. That absence is as important as what is in there. The only black people are doing exotic dances … servants or workers. It’s bizarre, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see.”
Mason’s view of the magazine didn’t change until he came across the 1977 archives, during the Civil Rights movement.
“It’s not a perfect article, but it acknowledges the oppression,” Mason clarifies. “Black people are pictured. Opposition leaders are pictured. It’s a very different article.”
Likewise, the source covered the various issues plaguing Haiti in 2015.
Yet, there are more problems that need to be addressed before there will be real progress. As Michele Norris writes in one of National Geographic‘s articles:
“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.”
WITH THAT IN MIND
As social media personality “The Love Life of an Asian Guy (LLAG)” mentions, Nat Geo‘s influence has “permeated every corner of the world.”
“They ALL learned from Nat Geo and we’ve all been told that we need to consume culture from a white lens. White travel shows are filled with arrogant white hosts who feel it necessary to wag their fingers at ethnic cuisine and cultures, the same way Nat Geo did.”
“Unless I see 24/7 coverage of the white opioid crisis in Wichita, Kansas,” LLAG continues, “which you can show to children in classrooms under the guise of ‘American cultural education,’ I don’t wanna hear what you have to say.”
What are your thoughts about National Geographic‘s statement? Also, do you feel that LLAG has a valid point?
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[Featured Photo via @Kaibutsu / Twitter]