Get our free newsletter

Ta-Nehisi Coates was right to point out the absurdity of Shell’s funding an exhibit on Africa in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (“A Dear Price,” 1/21), but there was no need to pile so much vitriol on an institution that is one of the most popular in the nation’s capital. In this article, we are told that the museum’s exhibits are “old and dusty” and look as if they had been put together by a “British hobbyist”; worse, the entire institution is accused of having racial views somewhat akin to those of Ross Barnett. Coates’ evidence for this last accusation is the supposed relegation of “most” exhibits on non-Western cultures to the natural history museum. If he had bothered to walk across the Mall, he might have noticed the existence of a huge (and excellent) museum devoted exclusively to African art and culture, and two museums devoted to Asian and Middle Eastern art right next to it, not to mention an almost unknown African-American museum across the river in Anacostia. (Interestingly, there is actually no Smithsonian museum devoted specifically to European art, although the subject is covered fairly well by the non-Smithsonian National Gallery of Art, as well as the Hirshhorn.) That some of the displays in Natural History are dated cannot be doubted, but Coates mentions only briefly the lack of funding that could conceivably have something to do with this. Right-wing senators accuse the Smithsonian of being too politically correct; Coates accuses it of being not politically correct enough. Could that mean that it’s doing something right?

Seabrook, Md.