National Geographic acknowledged that it covered the world through a racist lens for generations, with its magazine portrayals of bare-breasted women and naive brown-skinned tribesmen as savage, unsophisticated and unintelligent.
"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.
National Geographic first published its magazine in 1888. An investigation conducted last fall by University of Virginia photography historian John Edwin Mason showed that until the 1970s, it virtually ignored people of color in the United States who were not domestics or laborers, and it reinforced repeatedly the idea that people of color from foreign lands were "exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages_every type of cliché."
In National Geographic's April issue, Goldberg, who identified herself as National Geographic's first woman and first Jewish editor, wrote a letter titled "For decades, our coverage was racist. To rise above our past, we must acknowledge it."
"I knew when we looked back there would be some storytelling that we obviously would never do today, that we don't do and we're not proud of," she told AP. "But it seemed to me if we want to credibly talk about race, we better look and see how we talked about race."