National Geographic Replaces Racist Fictions With Post-racial Fantasies

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2018-03-24 19:49Z by Steven

National Geographic Replaces Racist Fictions With Post-racial Fantasies

New York Magazine
2018-03-16

Lauren Michele Jackson


Photo: Courtesy of National Geographic. Photograph by Robin Hammond

In her honest but odd memoir that it seems, thankfully, few besides me have read, National Geographic emerges as a crucial touchstone to Rachel Dolezal’s supposed racial awakening. Isolated regionally and culturally by Christian-fundamentalist parents, copies of the magazine were one of the few tokens from 1980s and ’90s American culture allowed to Dolezal in a home that forbade television and processed food. And while her older brother scrounged pages for photos of topless women, NatGeo begat Rachel’s earliest racial fantasies. Coating herself in mud from head to feet, she “would pretend to be a dark-skinned princess in the Sahara Desert or one of the Bantu women living in the Congo,” images conjured exclusively by the monthly magazine. “I would stay in this fantasy world as long as I possibly could,” Dolezal writes. “It was never long enough.”

Over the last century, National Geographic has used the guise of ethnographic research to stoke the racial imaginations of curious white people. Investigating peoples and cultures like flora, splaying their images upon glossy pages with unchecked fascination, the magazine does not have a great track record when it comes to stories about people of color. And yet, these are the stories NatGeo is most famous for, training generation after generation to gawk at peoples other than themselves through telephoto lenses. Founded in 1888 to document the interests of affluent explorers, the name alone evokes a colonial impulse — the National Geographic Society started as a private club dedicated to worldly, exotic travel. The publication has long been an unrepentant descendant of those beginnings — until now, allegedly…

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National Geographic acknowledges its racist past, then steps on its message with a cover photo

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Social Justice, Social Science, United States on 2018-03-18 04:12Z by Steven

National Geographic acknowledges its racist past, then steps on its message with a cover photo

The Washington Post
2018-03-16

Victor Ray, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Tennessee. Knoxville

National Geographic has long offered a kind of pop-cultural imperialist anthropology that centers the white gaze and exoticizes people of color. The current issue of the magazine makes a brave attempt to deal with that messy history around race and racism.

To get an outsider’s view of its coverage of race, National Geographic hired the University of Virginia history professor John Edwin Mason, who studies the history of photography and African history. Mason found that the magazine was often on the wrong side of racial history. For instance, it glossed over the historical significance of the brutal 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which white South African police killed 69 unarmed peaceful protesters.

National Geographic’s editors rarely questioned the colonial legacy and power relations that allowed its photographers and writers to shape a global conversation on race and difference that was too accommodating to white supremacy. I was happy to see the magazine take up the laudable goal of addressing its racial history. Many mainstream publications, were they to examine their own history surrounding coverage of race and the protection of white supremacy, would probably not fare much better than National Geographic.

Unfortunately, the cover story for this issue traffics in the very racial cliches the magazine’s editor says National Geographic was guilty of in the past. The cover photo depicts 11-year-old mixed-race twin girls, with the tabloid-esque framing that one is black, the other white. And the headline makes the grand claim that the girls’ story will “make us rethink everything we know about race.”

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