National Geographic calls itself to task for its racist past

Originally published at:


I don’t know … this sort of smells like the Murdoch family up to something. Sure, NG has had it’s starts as a club for white guys with beards in a wood paneled boardroom full of guns, animal heads and photos of naked tribal people on the walls but, this sudden “woke” action comes in the midst of a huge sale to Disney. Cleansing at the feet of the mouse? Perhaps but, I am highly suspicious.


I know, right? They hire a Jewish woman and let her run material that contradicts their racist, misogynist agenda. How diabolically clever!


The last time I payed much attention to NatGeo was when I bought a second hand edition of their complete archive on CDROM. And now I have to admit, it would be a fascinating and instructive exercise to crowdsource a kind of filter, maybe it comes on another disc- to look at those old back issues through new eyes.


I bought the National Geographic reissue of Mary Kingsley’s “Travels in West Africa” and was very disappointed that they’d removed the final chapters, apparently in order to protect the tender flesh of my innocent brain from explicit Victorian racism.


They were going to do an edition on warships?

(I’m sorry, I’ll see myself out.)


Stay! Typo Town needs it’s sheriff!




National Geographic has never said anything racist, it’s just asking questions and adding to the debate! /New York Times

I’d be really interested to read through what they come up with. I’m sure there’s plenty of racism, particularly pre-WW2, but also I suspect a lot of things that were honest observations, but wildly impolitely stated.


I’m confused. You say that “we” honed systemic racism. As a white male I know that I certainly haven’t done so. Have you? Why do you say “we” for the actions of people hundreds or thousands of years ago? Why are you accusing all white people of systemic racism?

using #NotAllWhiteMen as a defence is not a terribly robust rejoinder.

Also, PROTIP: “some of my best friends are …” means, in practice, the opposite of what the words literally say.

A White Male (but hopefully not a weasel)


We all live within the structure of race - you, yourself, think of yourself as a “white male”, not just a male. When you do that, though, you help perpetuate the use of racial categories. And when you identify as a “white male” you are automatically lumped together with James Earl Ray, Mark Wahlberg, Trey Crowder, Warren Buffet, Richard Dawkins, Johnny Carson, Prince Charles and Hitler - and that’s just too diverse a group to have any real meaning, isn’t it?

People got along just fine for tens of thousands of years without our notions of race. Race as it exists today is historically recent - it had it’s beginnings in the 1600s, gathered power in the 1700s, and has been at it’s toxic worst since the 1800s. And the politicians, judges, writers, preachers etc. who have done the most in that time to convince us to think of each other by our racial category, and to enforce the racial definition of humans socially and legally, have all described themselves as “white” - which is why there is general agreement that white guys are to blame for the structure of race and it’s relentless message that being categorized as white makes you superior to everyone not categorized as white.

Our only way out of the structure of race is to start to step away from it, and use other categories to define our fellow humans - teacher, athlete, burgler, thinker, hedonist, reader, American, Canadian, Texan, decent person, reprobate, racist, non-racist, urban, rural, dancer, quibbler - there are thousands of categories other than race to use.

Until we can get away from racial identity (not cultural identity - the two are very different) in ourselves, and help other people to step away from racial categories and use useful categories to think about themselves and other people, racism will remain too real, and too toxic.

You might think about what other categories you fit, and what categories you’d want other people to use for you if you gave up thinking of yourself as “white”.

And those people you think of as “black” or “asian” or some other racial category? What non-racial categories do each of those people fit into that describes them much more accurately than their racial category?

If you look at the lives of five actual “black” people, for example - a gastroenterologist in Chicago, a farmer in India, a coffin-maker in Nigeria, a chef in London, and a fishing boat captain in Costa Rica (no, not the tall one, the stocky one in the red shirt) - what do they have in common, other than skin color? Nothing except being human.

How is it useful that they are all lumped together as “black” in racial schemes? It’s not.


He asks, in English, the dominant language in the world.

some of my best friends are weasels.


I have known a weasel, and you sir are no weasel!

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That all sounds nice, but have you ever considered what it really sounds like to say to, for instance, a black person, “I don’t even sees you as black. You’re just, you!”?

Honestly, colorblindness on a white person’s part is just another form of racism.


You’re right about the whole color-blindness thing. It’s a well-meaning but ultimately futile attempt to change how we use racial categories.

That’s not what I wrote about.

What I am saying is that we need to take a bit more time and categorize people in our own minds more accurately.

If you’re already mainly thinking of someone as a “black” person, telling them that you don’t see that they are in that racial category is a lie. But if the person you’re talking to is a teacher, or is a chemist, or is a garbage collector, and they are kind and helpful or aloof and cold or calm or frenetic, and you respond to THOSE categories they fit into, the subject of racial categories becomes less important, and unnecessary.

So I’m definitely not talking about “color blindness”. I’m talking about thinking about other people in better, more accurate ways.

We don’t need to improve the whole artificial structure of race, we need to subvert it and go around it. We need to strangle it through lack of use.

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Okay, but if a black person or a first nations person is proud of being black or native, why search for some “better” way to categorize them? Acknowledging how even they categorize themselves (instead of trying to set that aside) doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t see anything else about them.


That’s why I made a distinction between racial identity and cultural identity in my original post.

Since we’ve been stuck in this cage of racial thinking for centuries, it’s been easy to conflate culture and race sometimes. But an American who’s proud of being black is really proud to be an African American or whatever term replaces African American in the future. They are proud to be a member of a group with a specific history, specific trials overcome, specific heroes and villains. Talk to African Americans who’ve gone to Nigeria or India or Costa Rica and who got to know local black people there, and you will find that they are not talking about all those foreign people when they talk about their black identity. And they also exclude Africans who are recent immigrants to the U.S. and have totally different histories. So it’s an American cultural identity wrapped in racial terms, and that will be a complicated thing to work through over time. It will also change over time if we succeed in getting rid of racial thinking, since African Americans have been forced to remain largely apart up til now through racist laws and social rules. The descendants of people who think of themselves as African Americans today will eventually merge into new cultural groups which are not race-based and which have no equivalents today.

The same is true of people who think of themselves as white in the U.S. That’s a group of people of European ancestry, but it’s so diverse that “white” is pretty meaningless. And their shared history includes the Civil War between two great clumps of white people, with all it’s repercussions today, plus many waves of more recent European migration. These people, too, have been forced to remain largely apart from other racial categories up til now through racist laws and social rules. The descendants of people who think of themselves as “white” today will also eventually merge into new cultural groups which are not race-based and which have no equivalents today.

“First Nations Person” has the benefit of not being a racial category in most people’s minds anyway. It’s already seen as a cultural term - and it is a term used mainly in the U.S. and perhaps Canada. I know that people of original immigrant ancestry in most of Latin America call themselves Indios, not Native Americans or First Nation People. In those countries, if Indian is seen as a race (it’s not always, racial schemes differ from place to place) then that will eventually have to be addressed too. The racial structure of other countries is not the same as in the U.S., and different places will have different solutions.

If we are ever going to get rid of the whole structure of race, we will have to replace cultural terms which emphasize race with terms that emphasize history and culture.