by baldilocks

National Geographic is doing a series called The Race Issue. Yes, I know; I’m tired of it, too.

In NG’s case, however, they contrast their old coverage of non-white people groups with their coverage in the enlightened age – if you’ll pardon the pun. I have read only the following part of the series and haven’t decided if I’m going to read the other parts.

We asked John Edwin Mason to help with this examination. Mason is well positioned for the task: He’s a University of Virginia professor specializing in the history of photography and the history of Africa, a frequent crossroads of our storytelling. He dived into our archives.

What Mason found in short was that until the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers. Meanwhile it pictured “natives” elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters,

There are about a gazillion Baldilockses in Africa.

noble savages—every type of cliché.

Unlike magazines such as Life, Mason said, National Geographic did little to push its readers beyond the stereotypes ingrained in white American culture.

“Americans got ideas about the world from Tarzan movies and crude racist caricatures,” he said. “Segregation was the way it was. National Geographic wasn’t teaching as much as reinforcing messages they already received and doing so in a magazine that had tremendous authority. National Geographic comes into existence at the height of colonialism, and the world was divided into the colonizers and the colonized. That was a color line, and National Geographic was reflecting that view of the world.”

All of this is true. I had a subscription to NG when I was a teenager in the 1970s — a black teenager of closer African heritage than are most black Americans.

And you know what? I’m over it.

You’ve changed your ways, National Geographic. (Thanks for the maps, by the way.) But is it necessary to ruin your reputation by becoming National Groveling?

Let’s confront today’s shameful use of racism as a political strategy and prove we are better than this.

Now I see. National Geographic is better than today’s political strategy and its Race Series its offering on the altar of please-don’t-hurt-us.

How about this? I forgive you. Now please skip the Virtue Signaling. It’s as abhorrent as pictures of the naked African ladies who were probably my relatives.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here.  She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

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