Marion Barry Asian Comments: Former D.C. Mayor Set To Address Controversy (UPDATED)

WASHINGTON -- Former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry (D), who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council, is scheduled to appear with Asian-American leaders at a Thursday mid-day press conference where he is expected to address his recent controversial comments about Asian business owners and Filipino nurses.

A coalition called "Say Sorry Barry" has been pressuring the councilmember to apologize for his comments, which have been described as hurtful and divisive.

The drama involving Barry's comments began at his victory party following his Ward 8 Democratic primary win in April, where, according to WRC-TV/NBC4, the councilmember said:

"We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops," Barry said. "They ought to go. I'm going to say that right now. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too."

After some of his council colleagues condemned his comments, Barry initially stood his ground, saying the media had manipulated the situation and even went as far to tweet photos from inside an Asian-owned business in his ward to demonstrate the point he was trying to make.

Barry, who is a D.C. delegate to the Democratic National Convention, later said he regretted his words and in an interview with The Associated Press, said he wanted to "express my deep apology for offending some members of the Asian community and the D.C. community."

Later in April, Barry got into trouble again, this time for comments he made about Filipino nurses. According to the Examiner, Barry said:

In fact, it's so bad, that if you go to the hospital now, you find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines. And no offense, but let's grow our own teachers, let's grow our own nurses -- and so that we don't have to be scrounging around in our community clinics and other kinds of places -- having to hire people from somewhere else.

The Philippines' ambassador in Washington condemned Barry's comments, as did Asian leaders during a contentious D.C. Council hearing. Barry again blamed the media, saying there's an "indisputable fact" that some reporters are trying to divide the city, including Tom Sherwood of WRC-TV/NBC4, who originally reported on Barry's "dirty" Asian businesses comments.

Various Asian-affiliated organizations, including the Philippine Nurses Association of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Region and Filipino Americans for Progress, also chastised Barry and began to apply addition pressure on Barry.

This weekend during a trip to Las Vegas, Barry was hospitalized with a blood clot and in a tweet, thanked his "outstanding medical staff," including "kind professional Filipino staff."

Barry, who has been well known for his controversial comments over the years, will complete his "cycle of redemption yet again," as The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis described it, at noon at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue near the Anacostia Metrorail station. DeBonis laid out Barry's template for redemption:

The Asian tempest, you must understand, has been a mini-version of Barry’s various other public cycles of infamy and redemption. They go something like this:

1. Make a mistake.

2. Say you were misunderstood or taken out of context. Alternately, offer other excuses.

3. Give apology-of-sorts, saying sorry for giving “offense” or taking partial responsibility while deflecting full accountability.

4. Endure ongoing public rebuke.

5. Complete cycle by begging forgiveness in friendly territory — more often than not, in a church.

Stay tuned ...

UPDATED, 3:55 p.m.: The "Say Sorry Barry" coalition has sent out a media release, calling Thursday's meeting with Barry "a crucial first step":


Washington, D.C. - Today, in a joint press conference with a coalition of Asian American advocates, Councilmember Marion Barry apologized for remarks he made in April targeting Asian owned carry out restaurants in Ward 8 and Filipino nurses. Speakers also discussed key steps for working with Asian American advocates to benefit all Ward 8 community members.

On April 3rd, Councilman Barry said, "We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops." And on April 23rd, he targeted Filipino nurses saying, "In fact, it's so bad, that if you go to the hospital now, you find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines."

"While we are glad for the apology, this was never solely about an apology," said Olivia Chow, a campaign organizer with Asian Pacific Americans for Progress. "This was about restoring mutual respect as a basis for working together and moving forward to lift up all Ward 8 residents. A public official can't be allowed to get away with using words that divide us when their role as a leader is to unite us."

In a private meeting with coalition representatives last Friday, May 18th, Councilman Barry offered a genuine apology and offered to clear up any misunderstandings by agreeing to participate in today's press conference.
Today, Councilman Barry said, "I've been enlightened by this dialogue" and added, "We want Ward 8 to be a model of diversity and inclusiveness."

David Chung, a local business owner and member of the Office of Asian Pacific Islander Affairs Commission at the press conference said, "On behalf of all of the hard working Filipino nurses, small Asian business owners in Ward 8 and the Asian

American community in general, I would like to thank Mr. Barry for his apology today; especially given that it is during this month, the month of May that Asian Americans celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage month.”
"It takes courage” Chung said, “to grapple with issues that implicate changing demographics, economic development, and leadership - all of which came into play in the events that led up to this moment. Our focus should be on what we all will do tomorrow so we don’t forget about today.”

Organizers are moving forward with scheduling regular meetings the Councilman to examine policies that benefit Ward 8 business owners. These policies include improving the DC Restaurant Association's process for inspecting and evaluating businesses in the primary language used by the owner. Councilman Barry also hopes to model the H Street economic development initiatives to rehabilitate dilapidated businesses in Ward 8.

This campaign brought together over thirty local and national Asian American advocacy groups, and over 700 community members who signed the "Say Sorry Barry" petition. The petition by the DC Asian Pacific Americans for Progress first launched after Councilman Barry's remarks about Filipino nurses.

Over the last several weeks, supporters of the campaign include Many Languages One Voice, the Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus of the DC Democratic Party, the Asian Pacific American Bar Association - DC, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, and Asian American LEAD.

UPDATE, 5:35 p.m.: Barry's apology contained words that may now require a new apology. From WTOP:

When apologizing to the Asian community for comments he made last month, D.C. councilmember Marion Barry may have offended another minority group on Thursday: Polish people.

"America has had racial tensions from the time it was founded," Barry said. "Italians coming here, the Irish came here, the Jews came here, the Polacks came here, the Chinese came here."

The word "Polack" is a derogatory term that describes people of Polish descent.

Popular in the Community