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National Geographic admits Racist Past

The controversial issue has caused a massive upsurge in traffic on the publication's website

In their most recent issue, which was published online last week and is available in shops from March 27, National Geographic admitted that racism had influenced the reporting of the magazine for decades. The head of the magazine reflected critically on images of bare-breasted women and portrayals of brown-skinned tribesmen as savage and unintelligent. The newest issue starts with a letter from Susan Goldberg, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, in which she states that the magazine did not allow African-Americans and other people of colour to subscribe to the magazine until the 1960s and did not acknowledge people of colour in America, only mentioning them in relation to labourers and domestic workers, until the 1970s.

Credit: National Geographic

At the same time, they pictured people of colour from elsewhere as exotic and savages, often without clothes and as hunters. For example, in a story from 1916, two Aboriginal people from Australia were pictured while the caption of the photo suggested that they were savages who were less intelligent than other human beings because of their cultural background. Furthermore, people of colour were rarely pictured in cities or with technology like cars or planes, in contrast to white people who are usually fully clothed and around technology in the photos used in the magazine.

Moreover, Goldberg says National Geographic has done a better job employing women than people from different ethnicities and races but adds that the magazine is going to employ more people of colour and different backgrounds in the future since they are able to bring a different point of view to the magazine and help to tell a more accurate story.

This issue has caused the highest web traffic on the National Geographic website so far this year. Traffic for the issue is expected to grow even more, though the reactions of readers are mainly positive. Goldberg says that a high amount of conversation was predicted for this issue just like it was for the issue about gender that was released in January 2017.

National Geographic reaches 30 million people around the world and was one of the first magazines to publish colour photos. The magazine is published monthly in 172 countries and 43 languages and is famous for its reports about history, science and culture.