British Museum in racism row after saying Asian names are ‘confusing’
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The British Museum has been accused of racism over a tweet during an #AskACurator session on Twitter.
“Sometimes Asian names can be confusing, so we have to be careful about using too many,” said Jane Portal of the museum’s Asia Department.
... We aim to be understandable by 16 year olds. Sometimes Asian names can be confusing, so we have to be careful about using too many.— British Museum (@britishmuseum) September 13, 2017
Portal’s tweet was a response to a question asking how the museum designs labels and information that are ‘accessible to a wider range of people’.
How do you go about designing exhibition labels and information that are accessible to a wider range of people? #AskACurator— MAAS (@maasmuseum) September 13, 2017
This response provoked outcry on Twitter, with many users accusing the museum of racism and whitewashing.
Jesus. Confusing to whom, your white patrons? Haven't you stolen enough history?— Jillian (@jilliancyork) September 13, 2017
Some people offered suggestions such as longer labels, or more reliance on technology.
Those names aren't unfamiliar to those who have them! Presumptions here are extraordinary. Would never happen if you had diverse staff.— Birkett and Mileham (@textworkshop) September 13, 2017
Many users criticised the museum for taking a different approach to European names than to Asian ones.
Longer labels? Technology such as touch screens, audio recordings? So many ways round this. Don't blame the 16 year olds!— Amanda Lillywhite (@AJLillywhite) September 13, 2017
The museum later issued a clarification saying: “We would like to apologise for any offence caused. Jane was answering a very specific question about how we make the information on object labels accessible to a wider range of people... We are not always able to reflect the complexity of different names for e.g. periods, rulers, gods in different languages and cultures on labels."