Since it was founded in 1888 National Geographic has been considered a global leader in its coverage of nature and world cultures, but in its April issue the publication decided to take a hard look at its own history, especially its depictions of people of color.
The magazine asked historian John Edwin Mason to examine their coverage over the years, and the magazine is now looking to atone for what Mason found.
Mason determined that until the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color in the United States. Meanwhile, indigenous people abroad were depicted as "unclothed, noble savages."
For a magazine founded at the height of colonialism National Geographic did little to push beyond the color lines that colonialism drew. Rather, its coverage reinforced such views up until 1970, but the magazine believed acknowledging their past was the first step in moving forward.
The response to the article was mixed, but many believed that National Geographic had taken an important first step:
Growth comes from reflection, acknowledgment & reform. Huge congrats (still my fav mag) NatGeo— Leanne (@LeanneMAnd) March 13, 2018
Though some felt the acknowledgement fell a bit short:
Stating the obvious is a low bar, but good job beginning the work. Keep it up— vincent (@mvr550) March 13, 2018
I’m loving it. I’m sure it’s not 100% altruistic but it’s a good start.— Perma-Bitchfaced Nemesis (@OverlySarcasmic) March 13, 2018
It's a good starting point, but also a reminder that many conversations still need to take place:
I like that National Geographic is breaking down their racist coverage in the archives. Then we can move into the language of NGOs and foreign aid and UN initiatives, as well.— One of 50,000 Loki Stan Accounts (@AnotherNerd4) March 13, 2018