National Geographic on Monday said it was changing its prevailing tradition of stereotyping people of color, while admitting that from the beginning the magazine had enforced a skewed perception of black and brown people, by rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers and domestic workers.
National Geographic, which now reaches 30 million people around the world, was the way that many Americans first learned about the rest of the world, said professor Samir Husni, who heads the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi's journalism school.
She said, "It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine's past".
"We had to own our story to move beyond it", editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg told The Associated Press in an interview about the yellow-bordered magazine's April issue, which is devoted to race. An investigation conducted by photography historian from University of Virginia, John Edwin Mason, who was hired by Goldberg, showed that for generations, the magazine all but ignored people of color in the United States.
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National Geographic first published its magazine in 1888.
Pictures of bare-breasted women and natives in thrall to western cameras fuelled colonialist attitudes, according to a review commissioned by the magazine.
Mason also found problems with some of what was not covered in the magazine.
"It's not a flawless article, but it acknowledges the oppression", Mr Mason wrote.
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Goldberg cited one example from 1916 in which a photo depicted two Aboriginal Australian people with a caption that read: "South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings". "There are no voices of black South Africans". The only black people are doing exotic dances ... servants or workers.
"The photography, like the articles, didn't simply emphasize difference, but made difference. very exotic, very unusual, and put difference into a hierarchy", Mason told NPR.
April 4, 2018 marks the 50-year anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., and Goldberg wrote that "It's a worthy moment to step back, to take stock of where we are on race".
"It's also a conversation that is changing in real time: In two years, for the first time in USA history, less than half the children in the nation will be white", she wrote.
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