'Nat Geo' Race Issue Explores Magazine's History, Diversity In America

National Geographic is devoting its April 2018 issue to race and its coverage of diversity, exploring the topics in depth in a special edition.

The “Race Issue,” available online now and on newsstands March 27, also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Race Issue's cover story features fraternal twin girls, one who resembles her white mother and the other who looks more like her Jamaican father.

The story is a real-world example of the concept that racial differences have “no genetic or scientific basis,” according to DNA-sequencing pioneer Craig Venter — in other words, race is a societal, not scientific, concept.



The Race Issue includes a story on how scientific ideas of race originated, as well as a letter from National Geographic’s editor in chief Susan Goldberg admitting to the magazine’s historically racist coverage of the world, and a feature documenting black men getting stopped by police while driving.

Debra Adams Simmons, the executive editor of culture at National Geographic, said the time is right for an issue dedicated to race. “A cultural wave in the United States has put race at the forefront of the national discourse,” she wrote.

Goldberg asked John Edwin Mason, a professor of African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia, to analyze National Geographic’s nearly 130-year archive and see how the magazine covered people from diverse backgrounds.

Mason found a long tradition of racism in the magazine's coverage, from its text to its choice of subjects and photography.

"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," wrote Goldberg in the issue's editor letter, where she discusses Mason's findings. "Meanwhile, it pictured 'natives' elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché."

National Geographic’s April issue kicks off its “Diversity in America” magazine series. Throughout the rest of 2018, the series will focus on different racial, ethnic and religious groups in the United States and examine their changing roles in 21st-century life.

Next month, the magazine will “tell the stories of the 3.45 million Muslim Americans from more than 75 countries who have been deeply embedded in communities across the country for more than a hundred years,” Simmons explained.

Later in the year, National Geographic will explore Latinos, focusing on a “growing political and cultural influence as they’ve become the largest minority group in the United States.” It will also address “the role of South Asians in medicine, technology and business,” and “how culture is being redefined in Native American life.”

National Geographic has also launched a social-media campaign with its Race Issue, called #IDefineMe. The campaign calls on individuals to share their experience with race and asks readers how they define themselves.

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