National Geographic on Monday said it was changing its prevailing tradition of stereotyping people of color, while admitting that from the beginning the magazine had enforced a skewed perception of black and brown people, by rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers and domestic workers.

With race at the epicenter of its April issue, National Geographic assessed the content of its past issues, which the magazine acknowledged revolved around reinforcing the message of discrimination that was already ingrained in the American white culture.

Editor in Chief of National Geographic Susan Goldberg said before she could devote the April issue of the magazine to race, she wanted to take a close look on the lackadaisical coverage on people of color by the magazine.

She said, “It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine’s past. But when we decided to devote our April magazine to the topic of race, we thought we should examine our own history before turning our reportorial gaze to others.”

Goldberg, the first female editor of National Geographic, took a good look at the past reportage on race covered by the magazine, before the new issue dedicated to race, hits the stand this April. In an editorial titled "For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist," Goldberg wrote, "Let's confront today's shameful use of racism as a political strategy and prove we are better than this."

National Geographic first put out an issue in the year 1888. An investigation conducted by photography historian from University of Virginia, John Edwin Mason, who was hired by Goldberg, showed that for generations, the magazine all but ignored people of color in the United States.

The achievements and the ordeal of the African Americans went unnoticed, while the magazine repeatedly touted the idea that people of color from different countries were exotics, featuring bare-breasted women and portraying naive brown-skinned tribesmen as savage, unsophisticated and unintelligent.

Mason said this was mainly due to the magazine’s policy to have “nothing unpleasant” weighing down its content. So the war and civil conflicts in other countries went unnoticed, he said.

Mason cited an article about Australia published in 1916 that reinforced this policy. A photo caption in the article read: "South Australian Black fellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings."

“National Geographic's story barely mentions any problems,” Mason said. “There are no voices of black South Africans. That absence is as important as what is in there. The only black people are doing exotic dances … servants or workers. It’s bizarre, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see.”

Mason said for years where western world was depicted in a flattering light in the magazine while lauding their achievements, "the black and brown world was primitive and backwards and generally unchanging."

"The photography, like the articles, didn't simply emphasize difference, but made difference ... very exotic, very strange, and put difference into a hierarchy," Mason told NPR. "And that hierarchy was very clear: that the West, and especially the English-speaking world, was at the top of the hierarchy. And black and brown people were somewhere underneath."

The April issue of the magazine will be dedicated to race to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was killed on April 4. 

Goldberg said, “It’s a worthy moment to step back, to take stock of where we are on race. It’s also a conversation that is changing in real time.”