To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It
March 12, 2018 9:26 AM   Subscribe

The National Geographic asked a preeminent historian to investigate their coverage of people of color in the U.S. and abroad. Here’s what he found. This story is part of The Race Issue, a special issue of National Geographic that explores how race defines, separates, and unites us.
posted by infini (12 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Very good article. I think it says pretty great things about their current editor to do this. It’s hard for any organization to admit that they were guilty of institutional bias and racism in their coverage, but to use the talent they have on board to examine our own society closely, and their part in shaping it, that’s pretty awesome. In a media moment where the trend is to quash facts and rewrite history as much as possible, it’s nice to see a focus on digging them out and teaching people how to see that bias.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:39 AM on March 12, 2018 [9 favorites]

Never thought I'd see NGM covering racial disparities in traffic stops.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:54 AM on March 12, 2018

Portraits by Wayne Lawrence who is one of the humblest people you'll ever meet. His work in Flint is also worth taking a look at.
posted by photoslob at 10:20 AM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I suspect this is an anomaly. Remember what entity owns the magazines and TV networks, etc.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:31 AM on March 12, 2018

This was a better article than I was expecting. They didn’t just call out the blatantly racist stuff, they also acknowledged how super problematic the whole “people fascinated by Western technology” thing was.

One thing I’d like to hear more about is who they’ll give authorial voice to in the future. I’d like to see the subjects taking a more direct role in how stories are written about them. It sounds like they’re taking steps in that direction with the Haitian photography, but I still wonder about the editorial decisions and the stories that they choose to tell now. Giving primary authority over the narrative to the subjects themselves would amplify voices and viewpoints in a way that can’t really be achieved as long as editorial and authorial control is mostly held by the one core group it (presumably) is now. You can do a lot with less than that, but it still ultimately preserves the same kinds of colonialist, hierarchical relationships at the root of the more reprehensible things that once appeared in that magazine.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:58 AM on March 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

Remember what entity owns the magazines and TV networks, etc.
Worth noting that the 21stCenturyFox that owns 73% of NatGeo is the part that's being sold to Disney, as opposed to the FauxNews part that is staying with the Murdochs as part of the mislabeled "NewsCorp". So this may have been a test run to see what they can get away with while working for the Mouse.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:21 PM on March 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

The National Geographic is pretty good about thinking about our planet these days. I've been a fan of their visual style since the cold war (some of that old propaganda is pretty weird by our eyes).

In related, there's also Colors Magazine.
posted by ovvl at 7:13 PM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I stopped getting the mag a few years ago, when it was suddenly loaded with more Jesus than I wanted to pay for. That was, perhaps coincidentally, around the time when Fox became owner of it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:18 AM on March 13, 2018

I mean.. This is the right thing to do... if a little late. I imagine academics have been dismantling this magazine's racial myth making for decades. I know an anthropologist and sociologist published a really smart examination of the ideology of the magazine in the early 90s: Reading National Geographic

But this very issue's cover story shows National Geographic is still super dumb on race. Gene Demby hosted some thoughtful commentary on the subject on his Twitter yesterday.
posted by latkes at 7:14 AM on March 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ugh, oh my god, I didn’t see that. I didn’t even look at the cover. I take back the nice things I said. What an absolutely clueless approach.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:44 AM on March 13, 2018

When National Geographic announced the publication of a special issue about race this week, editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg’s editor’s note reported that the magazine had asked historian John Edwin Mason, of the University of Virginia, to look at the magazine’s past and help assess its coverage of race over the years. Goldberg relays some of Mason’s findings to her readers, but I wondered how Mason had gone about his research, and what else he had found that hadn’t made it into that relatively brief editor’s note.
posted by infini at 12:28 AM on March 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

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