National Geographic Calls Itself ‘Racist’ For Years of Photographing Native Peoples

National Geographic has issued a mea culpa for pretty much all of its coverage throughout its 130-year history.

The magazine, founded in 1888, has often featured cover photographs of Native peoples in their own dwellings and environments, illuminating their lives and allowing wide-eyed readers the world over to learn about different cultures and experience a sense of wonderment about the world we live in.

No longer.

In an apology reported on by the Washington Post, the Geographic is reckoning with its own “racist” past, because apparently it is stereotypical to report on Native peoples being naked or technologically primitive — even if that was the actual truth of the situation.

The statement 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. 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. Race is not a biological construct, as writer Elizabeth Kolbert explains in this issue, but a social one that can have devastating effects.”

The Post reports: “For much of its 130-year history, the magazine depicted people of color in crude stereotypes. Its archives are loaded with pictures of brown-skinned “natives” gazing in apparent awe at Western technology, articles referring to tribal peoples as “savages,” and of course many, many photos of bare-breasted Pacific island women striking vaguely seductive poses. Those glossy Geographics, stacked up in attics and basements, were favorites of more than a few curious young boys — with little interest in New Guinea or Polynesia.”

Why is “natives” in scare quotes?

Apparently it’s better to ignore the lives of tribal people or, maybe, dress them up in hipster clothes or something before you take photographs of them?

Or just stick to photographing white people in their natural habitat of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, foraging for nourishment at Whole Foods?


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