National Geographic and the New York Times own up to racist, sexist legacies
It’s not everyday that mainstream publications constructively critique where they went wrong in the past, but recently two high-readership organizations shared their focus on more sensitive coverage moving forward.
Both National Geographic and the New York Times admitted recently that their staffs produced coverage that often affirmed and celebrated the lived experiences of powerful white men at the expense of people of color and women.
Through editors Amisha Padnani and Jessica Bennett’s words, the Times announced its “Overlooked” section, which now includes obituaries for people who “left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked.” Staffers will supplement the section weekly and readers may nominate people for consideration.
So far, the Times published obituaries for journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, Henrietta Lacks, the Black woman whose multiplying cells yielded scientific innovations but were retained without her consent, Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen and many more historic women.
Additionally, Susan Goldberg, the first Jewish person and first woman editor of National Geographic, collaboratively culled the publication’s issues to “examine [National Geographic’s] own history before turning our reportorial gaze to others.” Goldberg tapped experts and plainly called out decades of racist coverage.
National Geographic journalists classified indigenous peoples as savages, fetishized certain women from the Pacific Islands and portrayed Black people who pursued human rights as mere servants and entertainers. These reporters often centered themselves instead of the subjects and perpetuated ideas that pre-existing communities of color lacked technology (code for civilization and advancement).
“It’s hard for an individual—or a country—to evolve past discomfort if the source of the anxiety is only discussed in hushed tones,” Michele Norris wrote for National Geographic.
While some may see this as a step in the right direction, for others it is too little, too late:
Ohhh, I get it.. Because the New York Times did a belated ass obituary for Ida B. Wells EIGHTY SEVEN YEARS AFTER SHE DIED, y’all forgot that it’s a white supremacist publication. Got it.
— Crystal M. Fleming (@alwaystheself) March 13, 2018
Either way, there is far more work to be done.