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.
Defined by its yellow-bordered covers and stunning photography, the magazine has been a window to the world for many Americans, featuring culture, travel, science, and geography.
After 130 years of publication, National Geographic magazine is reckoning with its past, saying its coverage of people of color both and in and outside the United States was for generations "racist". "But when we made a decision 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".
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.
Mason said he found an intentional pattern in his review.
Goldberg said she is doing just that, adding that in the past, the magazine has done a better job at gender diversity than racial and ethnic diversity. So the war and civil conflicts in other countries went unnoticed, he said.
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".
"National Geographic's story barely mentions any problems", Mason said. "It's freakish, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see".
HIV-positive Nozamile Ndarah (23) and two of her four HIV-negative children enjoy seeing their picture in National Geographic magazine. "And that hierarchy was very clear: that the West, and especially the English-speaking world, was at the top of the hierarchy".
It chose to re-examine its coverage to mark 50 years since civil rights leader Martin Luther King was murdered.
Goldberg said, "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 U.S. history, less than half the children in the nation will be white", she wrote.